Takva, Fear of God (2007)

Turkish Morality Tale

By Laura Gatewood
A deservedly critical darling when it premiered at the Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals in 2006, "Takva," the first feature film from Turkish filmmaker Ozer Kiziltan, offers a mesmerizing view into the repercussions of one Muslim man’s efforts to maintain a pious, ascetic life after he is thrown into the "messy" commercialism of the modern world. 
The English subtitle, "Fear of God," is a very apt translation, as the movie follows a simple middle-aged man, Muharrem (Erkan Can), who, after he is chosen to be the treasurer of his sheik’s Muslim teaching foundation, becomes convinced that he will offend and lose the love of his benevolent Allah if he allows himself any human mistakes. It's an impossible feat to achieve, one that places him on a dangerous spiritual path, ultimately leading to tragic, inevitable conclusion.
"Takva" opens with a scene of Muharrem’s daily ministrations, following him as he bathes himself and prepares his rug for prayers. He is the type of man who sees himself only as a vehicle through which to honor his god, and his shuffling walk and courteous manner to all who interact with him suggest he has taken self-effacement as a lifestyle, and not merely just a facet of his personality.
A lifelong entrusted apprentice to a middle-class sack seller, he works   His pure heart does not go unnoticed by the sheik of Muharrem’s local religious order and teaching foundation, and he is subsequently requested in the name of Allah to go out and collect the rents due to the order from their real estate properties located throughout Istanbul. Muharrem at first balks at the idea, fearing he does not have the worldy intellect or sophistication to ably perform such a task, but the sheik convinces him that it is precisely because he lacks these qualities that he wants him to fulfill this position. His pure heart will make it more difficult for him to be corrupted by the temptations of power and money.
At first, the Sheik’s assumptions prove correct. Muharrem goes through the motions of collecting enormous sums of money while being ushered around town in a chauffeured car and wearing suits to match the respect his job should muster from clients, but he doesn’t seem to be psychologically impacted by the grand life he suddenly has thrust upon him.
But the grace period doesn’t last long, and two hypocritical situations soon force him to confront the truth that greed exists within his beloved religion, a truth that is too much for his carefully built spiritual house of cards to support. He is first thrown for a loop when he is instructed to take the rent money without question or comment from a lessee drinking alcohol in plain sight during the day, a religious sin, because the rent is on time, and again struck when his overseer tells him that in spite of the devastating poverty and tragic circumstances recently visited upon one decent and hard-working family, that no alms can be shown them when they come up short on their rent.
It is the stress he encounters while trying to perform profane tasks in the name of a sacred calling, that leads Muharrem towards a fear of his god and self only magnified a thousand fold when he begins to have regular wet dreams that leave him quaking from humiliation in the middle of the night and shaking from internal conflict during the day. Soon his personality transforms into one prone to confrontation and angry outbursts as his inner torment comes out in destructive encounters with friends and colleagues.   Growing further and further from the comfort of his past life and content faith with his god, Muharrem is slowly driven towards a climactic psychotic break.
"Takva" is a rather simple morality tale with deep insight into the extremes that honoring one’s god can go to–for such sacred intentions, Muharrem’s faith denies him an acceptance of his human frailty to tragic ends. For the film to resonate with the audience it has to be driven by a high quality of acting and directing to allow the character of Muharrem to develop and change believably. Takva has both in its lead actor, Erkan Can, and director, Ozer Kiziltan. Can is heartbreaking as the tormented Muharrem and anchors the story, and Kiziltan keeps the direction focused on Muharrem as his “enlightenment” unfolds and he is revealed to be a sacrificial pawn on the altar of the religion and god he loved almost to the point of profanity.
Credits:
Directed by: Ozer Kiziltan
Written by: Onder Cakar
Muharrem: Erkan Can
Rauf: Guven Kirac
Seyh: Meray Ulgen