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From Turkey with Love

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From Turkey with Love

6 films set in Istanbul

From Turkey with Love

This summer Istanbulites welcomed one of the biggest film crews ever to shoot in the city’s historical quarters. Oscar winning director Sam Mendes and his team were shooting the latest edition of Ian Flemming’s famous novels-turned-movies about a spy for the British Secret Service, James Bond. The filming of Skyfall (2012), the twenty-third instalment of the series and  featuring Daniel Craig as her Majesty’s agent, coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the shoot in the same location as the second Bond film, From Russia with Love(1963) - considered by many fans as the best film in the series. Though many films had been previously filmed with Istanbul in the background, it was this Bond film that made the city an iconic location for its breathtaking scenery and historical significance. Since this first film, when crews wandered through the bazaars, the narrow streets around the Golden Horn and the coast of the Bosphorus looking for that perfect shot, dozens of International and local film makers have been inspired to use this city as a setting for their movies. Here is a short list with some of the most famous movie titles set in Istanbul that can serve as an introduction to the wonders of the city and a window into Turkish culture and society.

the poster for Jules Dassin's 'Topkapi'

the poster for Jules Dassin's 'Topkapi'

Topkapi (1964):A year after the filming of From Russia with Love, director Jules Dassin’s crew arrived in Istanbul to film the heist film Topkapi. Centred around a group of thieves obsessed with stealing the jewels of Sultan Mahmud I housed in the museum of the Topkapi Palace .This film is considered a classic of the heist genre, bringing a new dimension to a story about thieves and their masterplan: by adding in comedic elements and increasingly witty twists, Topkapi paved the way for famous movies of the same style like the Italian Job (1969), Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1999).


Hamam (1997):Italian-Turkish director Ferzan Özpetek uses a historical Turkish bath as the background to an intense love story between two young men in a city where there are still many taboos surrounding their relationship.  This heart-breaking film masterfully portrays the beauty in the cultural tradition of the hamam to tell this daring story about transformation and renewal. Though heavily criticised in Turkey, Hamam, also known in other countries as Steam: The Turkish Bath, earned its director enormous international recognition.


Distant, Uzak (2002):The first decade of the millennium brought a new generation of Turkish film makers into the worldwide markets. Semih Kaplanoglu, Zeki Demirkubuz andNuri Bilge Ceylan have received international recognition for their innovative, artistic and experimental low-budget movies dealing with dense topics such as alienation and identity crises. It was Ceylan’s acclaimed movie Uzak, a drama between two cousins with very different backgrounds, which opened up the possibility of portraying Istanbul outside the romantic orientalist paradigm - instead showing us a rough, conflict-ridden, gloomy city. As with his others movies such as 3 Monkeys (2008) and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), Ceylan’s photography departs from the stylised takes of the Bosphorus and instead pointing his camera towards the unseen neighbourhoods around the tourist districts.  With his impressive camerawork, the acclaimed director shows shots of Istanbul in the winter you wont find in any other movie.

From Turkey with Love

Turkish baths features heavily in Ă–zpetek's 'Hamam'

Head-On, Gegen die Wand (2004):Who can forget those towering shots from the Büyük Londra Hotel in Beyoglu   that award-winning German-Turkish director Fatih Akin used to capture the intense final moments between the broken couple of Cahit and Sibel in this first film of his ‘Love, Death and the Devil’ trilogy. Akin displays his incredible ability to capture the transcendence of the city through his characters’ stories as they struggle with their own mixed identities highlighted in two locations: a industrial, ‘organised’ Germany and the chaotic streets of Istanbul. Widely regarded by critics and film lovers as one of the best films of the previous decade, this film is a must see for anyone that wants to see the beauty of the city on the silver screen.


Istanbul Tales, Anlat Istanbul (2005):A group of acclaimed Turkish directors collaborate for this anthology film of five short interconnected stories re-imagining on popular fairytales (Snow White, Cinderella, Pied Piper, Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood) using modern day Istanbul as the background. This ambitious project by film-makers Selim Demirdelen, Kudret Sabanci, Ümit Ünal, Yücel Yolcu andÖmür Atay has some of our favorite scenes portraying the city, such as an eeiry sequence in which the normally bustling streets of Istanbul becomes devoid of it’s inhabitants, marking the thin limits between the surreal, our imaginations and the daily routines of a city of 15 million people.


Ekumenopolis (2010):This recent award-winning documentary serves as an excellent introduction to the history of Istanbul and a possible glimpse into the direction in which it is headed to. In the past 30 years Istanbul’s population surged from 3.5 million to 15 million people; this movie explains not only the reason for this incredible transformation but explores the economic, political and ecological consequences of such a speedy change. Astounding aerial shots of the city, cool animations and a great soundtrack are used to give the audience a sense of the vast dimensions of this megalopolis lie beyond the tourist districts of Beyoglu   and Sultanahmet .

From Turkey with Love

fantastic views in Fatih Akin's 'Head On/Gegen Die Wand'

We’ve only got so much space for other great movies with Istanbul as their setting, so here are a few others to watch that will inspire a love for this extraordinarily photogenic city:


·         The World is not Enough (1998) - Michael Apted

·         The Accidental Spy (2001) – Teddy Chan

·         A Touch of Spice - Politiki Kouzina (2003) - Tassos Boulmetis

·         Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005) -  Fatih Akin

·         Magic Carpet Ride – Organize Isler (2005) – Yilmaz Erdogan

·         Alone - Issiz Adam (2008) – Çagan Irmak


Daniel Silva

An iconic location for its breathtaking scenery and historical significance

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