Translated into English as Two Languages, One Suitcase, otherwise known as On the Way to School this is a fly-on-the-wall documentary directed by Orhan Eskiköy and Ozgür Dogan. Over the course of an academic year we follow teacher Emre Aydın in his first teaching job in a school in a remote Kurdish village, Demirci, in South East Turkey. On arrival Emre is shocked by the lack of running water, and we see him setting off to fetch supplies aided by a young boy who arrives on scene to help him with carrying the containers. We soon find that a lack of ready water is only one of the challenges facing Emre. While the water issue is tackled by the locals drilling a hole, assisted by Emre who learns some Kurdish words in the process, we are presented with the other day to day challenges that this new teacher faces.
When the doors of the school open at the beginning of term we see a sequence of shots showing an empty classroom set against that of Emre looking out beyond the school grounds surveying the landscape for the classroom’s absent pupils. Faced with such poor attendance we then follow Emre as he is guided through the village by young boy, who acts as a Kurdish – Turkish interpreter, in search of the elusive pupils. Pupils recruited, they are then crammed, sometimes four or more to a desk, into the small classroom. Like the school in Être et Avoir this is a single class school and children of all ages are taught together. However, the challenge faced by Emre is vast as most of youngest children speak only Kurdish, while lessons are taught in Turkish. Thus the film contributes to an understanding of the marginalisation of the Kurdish people and their language.
So, in this context Emre decides he must teach the pupils Turkish above anything else and as the youngest children learn to write by drawing zigzags the older children are set the tasks of memorising the Turkish oath. Things don’t run smoothly however, and as some children persist with Kurdish, and struggle to comprehend Turkish, Emre manages his increasing frustration in the most productive way he can, by sending the children out to play.
The film shows us that Emre is isolated in a number of ways. The most obvious is through the representation of the language barrier, but in the the playground he is shown sitting on the wall, a distant figure while the children at play take the foreground of the scene. His distance from his familiar world in the West of Turkey is also shown in the intimate scenes where he phones his mother to update and reassure her.
The film employs some conventions, along the lines of Être et Avoir to indicate the passage of time. For example the changing seasons and the transition from winter to spring are illustrated by the snow giving way to geese and goslings, the lack of coats on the children, and the appearance of greenery across the landscape. But the coming of spring is also indicated by a more relaxed Emre and an improvement in the children’s reading of Turkish.
National Sovereignty and Children’s Day was celebrated on the 23rd April with a sack race and other collective expressions of Turkish identity. It is worth noting that the establishment of a national Turkish education system, in turn designed to promote Turkish identity and citizenship, were influenced by French education as well as Durkheimian sociology (Gündüz 2009).
As with all fly-on-the-wall documentaries there is the question of whether İki Dil Bir Bavul is authentic (editing has necessarily taken place to condense the captured footage into 81 minutes). There is a narrative, a story being being told, about teacher Emre even though the context in which this story takes place is not staged (Çiçek, 2011). Though, as Çiçek (2011) discusses, this format is not popular form of documentary making in Turkey and that some critics may regard the film as ‘fiction’ in order not to not to have to address Kurdish marginalisation in Turkey.
Çiçek, Ã. (2011) ‘The fictive archive: Kurdish filmmaking in turkey’, Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, 1. [Online] Available at: http://cora.ucc.ie/handle/10468/659 [Accessed 15th February 2015]
Gündüz, M. (2009) ‘Sociocultural origins of Turkish educational reforms and ideological origins of late Ottoman intellectuals (1908–1930)’, History of Education, 38(2):191-216.