The List of Those Who Love Me: Istanbul's showbiz underworld
Labelled as a film “about the gravity of the desire to be loved,” Emre Erdogdu’s sophomore feature The List of Those Who Love Me revolves around a series of misfortunes hitting a young drug dealer, called Yilmaz (portrayed by Halil Babür).
The man works around Istanbul’s districts Bağcılar and Cihangir. The latter is a celebrity-packed neighbourhood of the Turkish capital, wherein he supplies soft and hard drugs (mainly hashish and cocaine) to a bunch of creatives active in the local film and music scene. It is a close-knit circle, and Yilmaz seems to enjoy his wild lifestyle made of parties and binges until he is able to sell everyone enough ‘grams of happiness.’
"Erdogdu’s second effort is a cinematic wandering with mixed results. The dry acting and the choice to explore Istanbul’s addicted showbiz – even though in a quite sketchy manner – are surely appealing but they don’t make up for the weak storytelling choices bringing Yilmaz’s vicissitudes to a close"
The film, entirely shot in black-and-white, opens with a scene depicting one of this circle’s gatherings. In it, Yilmaz sits on a sofa and asks the participants: “Do you know how I got into this job?” After this prologue, a long analepsis follows, but we won’t be able to find out much about Yilmaz’s past until the closure of the narrative arc.
Nevertheless, we will gain a better understanding of the type of people he is surrounded by. Among his regulars are bored actresses such as Suzan (Süreyya Güzel), who, after spending some time in Berlin, is ready to stage another mediocre version of Macbeth; vain, naive girls such as Tutku (Hayal Köseoglu), who is frustrated by her recurring role in a TV series and hopes to break into film, and selfish, reckless thesps such as Enes (Ahmet Rifat Sungar), who tolerates Yilmaz’s presence owing to his role of courier.
On the surface, the local showbiz underworld seems to be on friendly terms with our protagonist. It is worth noting that all of these characters are rather sketched and marginally developed, and we can barely sense the frailty of their relationships and how these are mostly based on mutual convenience.
The only bond which loosely connects Yilmaz with this bunch of strangers – in addition to consuming drugs, obviously – is his creative aspirations. This is hinted at by one scene in particular, where Yilmaz and a screenwriter sit together on a sofa. The two look towards the camera, seemingly breaking the fourth wall. The screenwriter asks: “Why is it in black and white?” “I don’t know...” answers Yilmaz.
Right after, we realise that they are both staring at the telly and commenting on some silent footage shot by Yilmaz himself. Viewers can easily find some genuine irony in this meta-cinematic conversation, but they might be pushed to ask Erdogdu the same question. Why did he shoot the whole piece in black-and-white? Unfortunately, the reason remains unclear, and the absence of colour can only suggest a timid attempt to evoke social realist cinema.
The turning point set to change the initial order of things takes place when the local drug market suddenly dries up. Thus, Yilmaz is forced to find new suppliers to keep up with his customers’ demands.
As paranoia mounts and new, cruel market players emerge, things for Yilmaz go from bad to worse. It’s frustrating to see that the lead character could stop his downward spiral almost at any moment, even by just keeping a lower profile. Instead, he decides to embrace risk in a rather self-destructive manner and makes one wrong move after another.
Yilmaz does not seem to struggle financially but he seeks a sense of belonging along with the aforementioned “desire to be loved.” However, one might wonder why he does not search for affection and understanding elsewhere. His ‘peer’ never offer him anything concrete or set any big expectation, and some of them (e.g. Enes and Suzan) are not even particularly lovable.
In his writing, Erdogdu vaguely hints at Tutku as a possible love interest, but this aspect is too feeble to push Yilmaz to the drastic choice he makes at the end of the film. But then again, Tutku never shows anything else but a friendly attitude towards him. The film’s last two scenes do provide some answers to Yilmaz’s opening question, but they become more marginal as we become more and more curious about the man’s fate and the consequences of his risky business.
All in all, Erdogdu’s second effort is a cinematic wandering with mixed results. The dry acting and the choice to explore Istanbul’s addicted showbiz – even though in a quite sketchy manner – are surely appealing but they don’t make up for the weak storytelling choices bringing Yilmaz’s vicissitudes to a close. His motives remain unknown and one might struggle to find why this story was so urgent to tell.
The List of Those Who Love Me was crowned Turkish film of the year in Istanbul and recently played in the main competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, where it won the prize for Best Cinematography.
Davide Abbatescianni is an Italian Film Critic and Journalist based in Cork, Ireland.
Follow him on Twitter: @dabbatescianni