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Yesim and I talk about tradition, sexual politics in Turkey, harsh modernism, manipulation, control and patriarchal power.

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In her most politically charged film to date, Turkish writer-director Yesim Ustaoglu revisits her previous films’ themes of alienation and the longing to escape, viewing them through a distinctly female lens. In Clair Obscur, a film about the lives of two women from opposing worlds, Ustaoglu explores the different possibilities and limitations that exist for women in Turkey today.

Chenaz thinks of herself as modern and liberal. Resident psychiatrist at a hospital on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, she lives with her long-time partner, Cem, in a stylishly appointed home. Valuing each other’s independence, Chenaz and Cem appear to think of each other as equals, but as Chenaz spends more time with a work colleague, she begins to wonder if Cem’s treatment of her is motivated by love or by a desire for control.

Elmas lives with her much-older husband in a conservative household where her place is better defined in terms of servitude than by familial bonds. Under her mother-in-law’s watchful eye, Elmas is responsible for all of the household chores, made to play the role of nursemaid, and forced to submit to her husband’s nightly sexual desires.

As Ustaoglu intercuts and eventually intersects Chenaz and Elmas’ stories, we begin to understand that their lives may have more in common than it appears at first glance. Alternating close, confining camerawork with sweeping widescreen landscapes, Michael Hammon’s exquisite photography simultaneously reflects the restrictions and boundless potential of Ustaoglu’s female protagonists. By turns pensive and dramatic — even violent — Clair Obscur asks us to consider the true meaning of liberty.


Yesim Ustaoglu was born in Çaykara, Turkey. She directed several shorts before making her feature film debut with The Trace.

Her other features include Journey to the SunWaiting for the CloudsPandora’s Box, which screened at the Festival, and Araf/Somewhere in Between.

Clair Obscur is her latest film.