A well-known writer once said that people cannot survive without poetry. Director Cengiz Akaygün feels somewhat the same, since his short film talks about the absolute necessity of imagination for the survival of people in extreme conditions. Emerging from a deep and delicate socio-political and cultural context that speaks of the indispensability of artistic escapism from hostile environments, ‘The Mandarin Tree‘ project is a painful micro-panorama of a social environment dominated by censorship in which the prohibition of imagination becomes equivalent to the annihilation of the human being concept itself. Obviously, the thematic substrate approached by the director is far from being purely fictious, since Cengiz Akaygün seems to be aware of the painful lessons of more or less recent history deriving from the experience of totalitarianism, where the subversive act of escaping from the ordinary through fiction became the only way to preserve the mental and moral integrity of individuals. Thus, referring strictly to the Turkish cultural space, this project, by its very theme, is a kind of cinematic equivalent of the Burhan Sönmez’s novel – Istanbul Istanbul – where, like the protagonists of this short film, the characters must fill the cold void of the prison with mental images, in order to overcome the agony of the psyche and flesh tortured by the representatives of an absurd political system. Despite its delicate and consistent socio-political substrate, this short film does not push its mainstay towards a militant zone, and can be received with the same aesthetic pleasure even outside any complementary reporting on concrete historical data, becoming an emotional metaphor for the major importance of imagination in preserving and developing one’s own humanity.
After her father is imprisoned due to anarchist attitudes against the political system, the girl and her mother visit the man regularly, trying to maintain his permanent connection with the world outside the jail. But will a drawing and a few mandarins be able to ensure the mental health of a prisoner?
Without relying on an ample narrative structure, this short film impresses through the extraordinary attention of the director concerned with almost imperceptible nuances of human reactivity, recomposing with the delicateness of a poet intense sensory pictures in which sight, hearing and smell combine in a deep and touching cinematic corpus. Cengiz Akaygün thus falls into the special category of intimist filmmakers, being preoccupied with analysis and introspection, while the seemingly minor details of a grim reality contribute to shaping a universal image of human being for whom memory and fiction become supreme values in the fight for survival. Thus, beyond the commendable cinematic quality of its image and other adjacent elements, ‘The Mandarin Tree’ impresses with the accuracy with which it describes the human sensitivity organically dependent on imagination.
For the care with which it captures the details rendering the ineffable essence of human sensibility confronted with censorship, for its cinematic quality that hypostasizes almost palpable pictures of the affective memory, for the attention with which the director depicts the absolute necessity of the imagination in preserving our own human integrity, ‘The Mandarin Tree’ was awarded with the Film of the Month distinction in the July 2019 edition of TMFF.