Growing up is never easy.
MY ONLY SUNSHINE (Hayat var) (2009) is a film written and directed by Reha Erdem about a 14-year-old-girl trying to make sense of her complicated world without guidance or compassion. Hayat’s (Elit Iscan) parents are divorced; she lives with her father (Erdal Besikcioglu), overly occupied with selling illegal goods and prostitutes to the men stationed on a large merchant vessel in the middle of a Turkish harbor. Her mother (Banu Fotocan) rarely visits because she is more concerned with her new family, leaving Hayat alone to care for her oxygen dependent, emphysema grandfather (Levend Yilmaz), who mostly uses Hayat to run errands, which proves to be an arduous task all it’s own. What Hayat yearns for is attention–loving attention from at least one of her parents.
Hayat is beautiful and is often picked on by her classmates. Her only friend is a woman named Kamile (Handan Karaadam). Kamile treats Hayat as if she is her daughter, and often searches for Hayat in the fields behind her home, finding her either tormenting the local turkeys–or hiding up in a tree. Due to the reduced circumstances of her life, Hayat never speaks. What is also unfortunate, she is a target for the local sexual predators who are well aware of her unsupervised home life. Her errands for her grandfather turn into something more than just buying him cigarettes that he doesn’t need–but an opportunity to be sexually harassed by the shopkeeper whenever she is short on cash, which is often.
Hayat is the single focus of Erdem’s Sunshine, and her character’s silence throughout the film is unsettling. At any moment you expect, to hear her scream out in pain either from the pain of loneliness or abuse. Instead, what you see is the quiet resiliency of her character. Iscan, the actress who plays the 14-year-old Hayat performs bravely and successfully carries a significant burden the role must have demanded of her–her world is harsh and unrelenting. The overall development of her character is slow moving; however, this may be the entire point of the film, allowing the viewer to absorb the surroundings, becoming Hayat’s silhouette. Erdem depicts the fragile landscapes beautifully–the expansive and dark beauty of the river marred by the mounds of refuse that surrounds Hayat’s home, a dilapidated shack that rests in the center of it all.
There are hardly any flaws that reside in this film or not worth mentioning. What’s evident is the humanism director/writer Erdem’s camera successfully captures–sadness and absolute contempt. The contempt is almost certainly felt partly by the viewer, that nothing more is done to rectify Hayat’s situation. Then there we are again, at sadness — more than enough of it to contemplate.