Film Treatment Paper: The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

22 Jun

  1. Concept

This cinema experience spans an extended family’s division between two continents and two competing cultures. We first meet turkish author, Elif Shafak, a recently arrested author, now passing her days in a turkish prison. She is not alone in her cell and we also meet other jailed turkish women who are interested to learn the salacious writings that led to her incarceration. We, and her cellmates, become swept up in her story through questioning and personal stories. We learn several individual stories that seem disjointed before they interlock briefly and then branch out in their personal directions before amalgamating at the end. First, we meet Zeliha as she attempts to abort her bastard child. This leaves us with questions and soon we learn the backstories of each of her sisters (and their missing male counterparts who have all passed away). Finally, we will meet this bastard child, herself, as she navigates her life in Turkey and endures the label placed upon her. Finally, we meet the missing member of the family, the only surviving male, Basam, who has since moved to Arizona and fallen in love with a young, American mother, Amy. We learn Amy’s backstory of a previous marriage and a challenging relationship with her Armenian husband’s family, both after her failed marriage, and as she marries a Turkish man.

Finally, the stories will begin to interlock as the Turkish family joins together in conversation and argues around bountiful tables full of food.  We meet the Armenian family around a similar table of food in a heated discussion about their grandchild’s future and Armenian-Turkish history. Finally, the camera moves to Basam and Amy with her Armenian baby around a quiet, uneventful table of traditional, American food. Soon, Basam and his wife travel to Turkey to meet with his family and the intricacies of relationships are explored.

The plane from America lands in Turkey and suddenly,we are jarred into the realization that Basam’s trip ends in tragedy. Time skips forward and we experience Bassam’s funeral and Amy’s torment as she watches the Turkish ceremonial traditions and begs those around her to explain why her husband has unexpectedly perished with no warning in the prime of his life. At this point, the story jumps back to Basam’s final evening. The sisters hint vaguey at past events and we view Basam as he eats the final food of his life, a dish prepared by his sisters.  Basam sadly eats this almond dish of his own volition (knowing the consequences) while recalling his sister’s rape – which he committed and ended in her bastard child. Through it all, we view snippets of the aunts preparing this dish and discussing this horrific, family crime. Now we return to the Turkish prison and a food tray arrives to the Turkish cell to a group of quiet and amazed cellmates. They eat their food in companionable silence.

  1. Characters.

The main character in this movie is Zeliha. Zeliha’s incestuaous rape, attempted abortion, birthing of Asya and final admission of past events will frame this movie.  Even before her rape, Zeliha always spoke her own mind and chose her own path. In fact, even after such a horrific events with such long-lasting consequences, Zeliha determinedly lived her own life, free of the advice of others. She is strong yet damaged from past events which will be revealed in small incidents throughout the movie.

The depth of Basam’s character will be explored throughout this movie as he attempts to live a normal, American life while racked with guilt about his previous crimes. The audience will identify with his efforts to husband Amy and father her Armenian baby. He will be likable enough for the audience to root for his success and feel somewhat disappointed once his crimes are revealed.

Amy’s father-in-law will be another central character. His knowledge and insights into the Armenian genocide will help to frame the author’s predicament in this movie. He will describe the atrocities committed during the Armenian genocide and help the audience identify with the family’s fear that Amy is marrying a Turk. Ironically, his true fear should be that his granddaughter will be living with a rapist.

Zeliha’s sisters will also be presented with some depth, although not to be individually mentioned. They are an eclectic group of Turkish women with differing life experience but are united by a common thread of sadness and loss of the men in their lives (and murder).

Finally, the audience will identify with the young, American woman, Amy, who is torn between the Turkish-Armenian issue, her life in America and the death of a man that she has grown to love. The audience will watch this woman at the height of happiness and depths of despair. She will appear mostly lost and confused throughout this movie.

  1. Themes.

The theme of this movie is the importance of relationships and the lasting scars that our actions can have on another. The idea of never escaping our most violent history will be explored. The audience will be pulled in multiple directions. They will somewhat hope that Basam could redeem himself in his new marriage and wonder if he should have been granted a second chance. At the same time, many will be somewhat satisfied at his eventual demise. The idea of the Turkish denial of Armenian genocide will also be a key issue in this film. We must, at the very least, acknowledge our past wrongdoings if we are to ever move past them. Neither Basam, nor the Turks were able to do this.

  1. Locations.

The locations of this film will be one of its most exciting elements. A Turkish prison cell will open the movie. Grey walls and an aura of hopelessness will prevail. (See Appendix A).

The aunts’ apartment in Istanbul with their eclectic tastes and myriad of cats will be next. It will be rich in color and history. (See Appendix B).

Basam and Amy’s typical, suburban, Arizona townhouse will be next with its unremarkable appearance and lacking any trace of Turkish culture. (See Appendix C).

The Armenian in-laws home will be shown as full of history, rich fabrics and with a seemingly cluttered appearance. This home will mostly feature an enormous dining table around which the relatives will discuss their grandchild’s predicament at the hands of a Turkish stepfather. (See Appendix D).

  1. Action Scene.

The most active scene in this movie involves Basam as he eats the almond dish that will eventually kill him. He recalls his anger at his sister, Zeliha, and his subsequent rape of her. After he enters his sister’s room, he instigates an aggressive, abusive fight with her and soon this fight dissolves into a sexual incident. Basam eventually leaves this room and books a flight for America the next day to escape his past. To ease the tension somewhat, this story is told mainly in snippets as he eats the food that will kill him. We also see the aunts adding each ingredient giving each other knowing looks in between his memories.

  1. Dialogue Scene.

(Basam enters Zeliha’s bedroom behind her and slams the door. The two are alone).

Basam: You are a ridiculous bitch, flaunting your body to anyone who would look!

Zeliha: Ahhh! You are a pathetic idiot – go ahead – look upon me!

Basam: As if I would find anything worth looking at.

Zeliha: (Tauntingly) You seem so concerned at how others might look upon me. You must see something you like, no?

Basam: Such a whore. Right to the end.

Zeliha: Get the fuck out of here; you have no power over me.

Basam: You wish!

Zeliha: I wish what? I wish you weren’t an ass? I wish you weren’t the golden boy of the family? I wish for a MAN like you? Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

Basam. I will make you wish you had never said such terrible things.

Zeliha: Bring it, you idiot!

  1. Pitch.

This wonderful novel ended in the jailing of its other which is already salacious, at best. This book screams for an adaptation. Film audiences will be blown away at the twist of events that spurred all of these events. Additionally, it will make audiences consider their ideas of salvation and forgiveness. Are there crimes beyond forgiveness? How about something as big as the Armenian genocide or something as small as an incestuuous rape?This adaptation involves far more of the author’s input regarding the story. The reaction of her cellmates during the retelling is also incredibly moving and adds to the original story. Women and those interested in international events will be the main viewers of this film. One could only imagine the discussion that could arise from such a film.


Appendix A: Turkish Prison Cell


Appendix B: Turkish Apartment


Appendix C: Arizona Apartment


Appendix D: Armenian Home (note the emphasis on the people, not the room – this is key to the movie).




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