Can Yaman and Ferzan Ozpetek; 2 passionate, modern Roman Turks for the new age
"Turkey and Italy, Italy and Turkey, they permeate my life, the way azure and red melt into one another in a Bosphorus sunset. I do get asked from time to time whether having two homelands does not feel confusing, but no, I do not feel confused. I'm not afraid of being a foreigner. Deep within, I love being a Turk in Rome and a Roman in Istanbul."1
While it sounds like it could be, this is not a quote from a near-future version of Can Yaman. It is a sentiment shared by a fellow Turkish creative figure with an affinity for il Bel Paese, writer, filmmaker, and Turkish transplant to Italy, Ferzan Ozpetek. Born and raised in Turkey but educated in Italy, Ozpetek highlights both homelands’ cultures in his work and bridges the landscape of Europe and its gateway to the more traditional East. Given Yaman’s own modern persona, respect for Turkish tradition and, love and affection for Italy and the Italian culture, it should come as no surprise that his and Ozpetek’s paths would eventually meet or that the two would hold each other in high artistic, creative and personal regard.
Ferzan Ozpetek was born on February 3, 1959, in Istanbul. His love for storytelling and cinema began after his grandmother took him to see Cleopatra at age 8. 2 After graduating high school, he traveled to Rome in 1976 to study film history at La Sapienza University. He continued his studies with History of Art and Costumes at the Accademia Navona and in Film Directing at the Accademia d’Arte Drammatica Silvio D’Amico. Ozpetek then began his career working as an assistant director to Italian directors Massimo Troisi, Maurizio Ponzi, Francesco Nuti, and Ricky Tognazzi.3
In 1997, he wrote and directed his first feature film, Hamam. Hamam’s presentation at the Cannes Film Festival put Ozpetek on the international map. Filmed in Turkish and Italian, Hamam tells the story of an Italian architect who moves to Istanbul after inheriting a Turkish bath from a distant relative. Planning on selling the property and quickly returning to his life and wife in Italy, he surprises himself when he falls in love with Istanbul, the Turkish lifestyle, and a young Turkish man.4 The film established Ozpetek’s style of exploring lives which blend Italian and Turkish culture and, as noted in the New York Times, stories that deal in “feelings that transcend social class and sexual orientation”.5 Reflective of Ozpetek’s journey
across lands and cultures, Hamam has been described as “a love letter to the quiet joy of finding one’s place in the world. It even promotes the lovely illusion that finding that place can be a matter of mere geography.”6
While these general themes and those of love, death, goodness, and identity carry over in many of Ozpetek’s subsequent films, each film has unique and distinct characters and stories that often feature communal gatherings around the table and food. Ozpetek has stated that he has a similar approach to cooking and directing, “I love cooking. Cooking has a lot to do with directing…For example, I do not weigh the food by measuring it. I do not think about how much salt I add, how much sugar I will add. I do it completely with my feelings. I listen to my instincts.”7
Ozpetek’s work has been honored with multiple notable accolades, including the David di Donatello Awards, the Italian equivalent of an Academy Award. He has directed several actors and actresses to David di Donatello nomination and awards and has been nominated himself for Best Director and Best film five times. His first film to be nominated for the David di Donatello Best Film Award was La Finestra di Fronte which won in 2003. The film dealt with a marriage on the brink of divorce, an amnesiac elderly stranger in need of compassion and care, and how as the secrets of his past are revealed, they help those who have taken him in decide to move forward towards their own futures.8
With each subsequent film: Cuore Sacro in 2005, Saturno Contro in 2007, and Un Giorno Perfetto in 2008, critical success followed. In 2008 the
Museum of Modern Art showcased a two-week retrospective screening all of Ozpetek’s work. In describing Ozpetek and his work, MOMA wrote they are: “Effortlessly elegant, his aesthetic rarely calls attention to itself; his films masterfully illuminate various strains of society and strands of storytelling, and his actors shine in beautifully written, multifaceted parts that embrace an unforced multiculturalism.”9 He is one of the few Italian directors to have had this honor bestowed on him.
Can Yaman and Ferzan Ozpetek have a long history of mutual admiration and have both long voiced a desire to work together. When asked about Ozpetek in a 2018 Hello! Magazine interview, the phenomenon known as Can Yaman answered, “I don’t know if Ferzan Özpetek knows me or watches me. I hope he does”.10 In July 2020, Ozpetek revealed that he’d like to work with Yaman because “he is someone who has that thing more than the others.”
The two eventually met in Rome in October 2020. Yaman described the meeting in a Verissimo television appearance: ” It was the first time we met, it was very nice, I chatted with him on WhatsApp, this time we found the opportunity to meet, and we hope to be able to do something together, let’s see….[as far as] a film together, let’s hope, let’s see, we don’t know. It’s too early to say anything, but the intention is there”.11
In December 2020, it was announced that Yaman would appear in a DeCecco pasta commercial directed by Ozpetek, who has also recently confirmed that he is rewriting his 2001 film Ignorant Fairies into an 8 part television series for Hulu with a new and younger cast.12 The original film was about a doctor whose husband dies suddenly in an accident. After his death, she learns that he was in a long-term relationship with another man. Shocked at her husband’s affair but wanting to learn more about the man he loved, she seeks her husband’s lover out and embarks on a journey of discovery.13 On January 23, 2021, shortly before the DeCecco Pasta commercial premiered on Italian television, it was announced that Yaman would appear in the 2021 version of Ignorant Fairies. Can Yaman’s character and additional casting have yet to be released.