Av: The Hunt (2020)

Av: The Hunt first published by VODzilla.co

The English title of Emre Akay’s Av: The Hunt is a bilingual reduplication (like Ju-on: The Grudge), with Av simply the Turkish for ‘hunting’. This is no doubt in part intended to distinguish it from Craig Zobel’s The Hunt (also 2020), but it also serves to show that Akay’s film is dealing with cultural specificities in need of translation for English-speaking audiences. For the theme of Av: The Hunt is honour killings, a phenomenon which, though still occurring on the margins of some diaspora communities in Anglo-American societies, are broadly unknown in the cultural mainstream, and regarded with abhorrence by the state. In contemporary Turkey, however, where Ataturk’s project of constitutional secularisation has been giving way under President Erdogan to a resurgence of Islamic conservatism, a corollary has been the rise in femicide, enacted by husbands, brothers or fathers in the name of family honour. 

“Hit like a man!”, yells a male coach near the beginning of Av: The Hunt, as he teaches martial arts to a group of women in a sports centre. This scene unfolds under a giant banner displaying Erdogan’s face, and flanked by Turkish flags. Here Erdogan is presiding over a nation where women train in self-defence and learn to behave like the opposite sex, in spite – or perhaps because – of the fact that the model of actual masculinity that the country has to offer is a toxic one rooted in misogyny (“Shut up, you fucking cunt! You don’t even know how to play,” one sportsman is heard casually saying, in heavily gendered terms, to a male teammate). The entire sports centre sequence is immediately preceded – and contextualised – by the film’s prologue, in which Ayse (Billur Melis Koç) sees her lover gunned down in his own apartment by intruding policeman Sedat (Ahmet Rifat Sungar), and only narrowly escapes the same fate herself by jumping from the balcony. 

The root of Ayse’s problem is that she is in fact married to Sedat, a business partner of her father Osman (Yilmaz Erdem), and a brutal man whom she has already tried in vain to divorce. Now her own brother Ahmet (Yilmaz Adam Bayraktar) has returned from Germany to join Sedat, his brother Çetin (Yagiz Can Konyali) and Çetin’s 16-year-old cousin Engin (Baki Ridvan Kaymaz) on a mission either to force Ayse back into the fold or else to restore the family honour by murdering her. We quickly get the measure of the kind of man Sedat is by the language that he uses. “I’ll fuck your cunt” is the rape-inflected threat that he regularly deploys to intimidate any male whom he perceives as being in his way (Çetin prefers the variants “I’m gonna fuck that cunt” and “you’re gonna suck cock”) – and Sedat’s angry sense of entitlement over his estranged wife’s very life extends to anyone else who undermines his repeatedly asserted, if arbitrary, authority. As these three men, and the young boy whom they are initiating into the rites of Turkish masculinity, pursue the terrified Ayse into the boar-filled wilderness, the stage is set for a battle of the sexes, where tables will be tuned and Ayse will get her Revenge (2017). 

“You should have been born a boy,” Osman tells Ayse in strange, red-lit dream sequence – matched by another red-lit maybe-a-dream sequence at the film’s end – that allegorises the contradictions of a patriarchy that requires errant essentialism to justify its own workings. The armed men who pursue Ayse define their masculinity by their venatorial prowess, but their female prey will prove a better hunter than all of them – and a most dangerous game – using their own phallic weapons, and whatever else lies to hand, against them. Yet in an environment where Ayse is told that she is getting what she deserves even by her best female friend (“We told you it would come to this – now you’ve ruined yourself along with everyone else”) and by her own sister (“You should’ve kept quiet like the rest of us”), it is clear that the values of female subjugation enforced by Ayse’s male relatives are so deeply ingrained and assimilated that even those of her own sex oppose her breach of them. Whether the film’s final showdown is regarded as actually happening, or just imagined in the sleeping Ayse’s head, the nightmare of women’s inequality and men’s hypocrisy in Erdogan’s Turkey is all too real. “This is honour!”, as Ayse is told by her sister. “There’s no escape.” The result is a dispiriting state-of-the-nation survival thriller in which rape and murder are validated as acceptable male behaviours, women are treated like animals, and the running can only ever end one way. 

Summary: Emre Akay’s state-of-the-nation survival thriller tracks a young Turkish woman on the run from her own male relatives.

Anton Bitel