Bilmemek [Not Knowing] (2019)

Bilmemek
Director: Leyla Yilmaz
Writer: Leyla Yilmaz
Cast: Emir Ozden, Senan Kara, Yurdaer Okur, Levent Üzümcü, Çetin Sarikartal, Ulascan Kutlu, Arda Aranat, Berke Bük, Sanem Öge, Özgür Daniel Foster
Part of: Transition International Queer Minority Film Festival
Seen on: 4.2.2022

Content Note: suicidal thoughts, (critical treatment of) homomisia, bullying

Plot:
Selma (Senan Kara) and Sinan (Yurdaer Okur) have been married for a long time, but there is a distance between them now that becomes harder and harder to bridge. Their son Umut (Emir Ozden) will soon leave for college – and who knows what will become of them then. But first they’re hoping that Umut will win a water polo scholarship and be able to go to college in the USA. When rumors abound within Umut’s team that Umut might be gay, his team mates start pressuring him, though, because he neither confrims nor denies it.

Bilmemek is a well-made film, but I did have my issues with the ending, I have to admit. Still, a lot of it was very engaging and interesting to me.

The film poster showing Umut (Eir Ozden) looking into the distance.

[SPOILERS]

Bilmemek divides its attention between Selma, Sinan and Umut, and of those three parts, Umut’s story is definitely the most engaging. I liked the decision that Yilmaz actually leaves the question of Umut’s sexual orientation open for everyone, maybe even to himself. Because the important part is not whom Umut might desire and whom not, but the relentless onslaught of homomisia he faces by pretty much everyone around him, everyone he trusted, just on the suspicion that he might be gay. The bullying is pretty harrowing and Ozden does a great job of showing Umut’s strength of will, but also his vulnerability. The downside of this lack of acknowledgment is that there are never any positives explored: being gay is only a tragedy. In fact, just being suspected of being gay is a tragedy in the making.

In contrast to the emotionality of Umut’s story, Selma’s and Sinan’s struggles lack emotional depth (and that is not the fault of Kara and Okur). They are, frankly, a little boring. This would have been alright if they had stayed more in the background of Umut’s story, but it is not enough for the equal parts they share for most of them film.

Umut (Emir Ozden) staring defianlty at his team mates.

The Not Knowing of the film’s title is two-fold: We don’t know about Umut’s sexual orientation, as I mentioned before, and at the end of the film, Sinan and Selma don’t know what happened to Umut after he disappears. Just as they (maybe!) find out, the film ends, leaving also the audience with uncertainty about Umut’s fate. And I really had my issues with the parallels drawn between not knowing Umut’s sexuality (arguably nobody’s business but his, although there is, of course, the joy of living your true self out, proud and loud) and his parents not knowing whether he is alive or dead (arguably a horrible uncertainty that may be worse than knowing he is dead). These two unknowns are not the same at all.

Thus, Bilmemek left a bitter taste behind for me, despite its many good qualities. I am just a little tired of tragic queers, and the film seems to see only the tragedy of it.

Umut (Emir Ozden) and his best friend Tunç (Ulascan Kutlu) talking in the park.

Summarizing: not all bad, but would have needed a bit more joy.

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