Homoti (1987) -½
Is there anything more perplexing than very silly art made by very serious people, for reasons that were obviously important to them, but are totally opaque to you? That’s the position in which I find myself after watching Homoti. I quite simply do not understand why this movie, an excruciatingly awful knockoff of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial written, directed, and produced by Turkish actor, author, teacher, critic, and playwright Müjdat Gezen*, exists. Let me start by heading off those who would take issue with my characterization of Gezen as “very serious”: yes, he deals frequently in comedy, but one of his books was a graphic biography of poet and communist Nazım Hikmet. Not only was Profile of Nazım Hikmet banned in Turkey after the 1980 military coup led by General Kenan Evren, but Gezen and illustrator Savaş Dinçel were both jailed over it. (Gezen apparently served about three weeks behind bars; I haven’t been able to determine what Dinçel’s sentence was.) He got in trouble again more recently, too, this time for criticizing— excuse me, “insulting”— President Recep Erdoğan on a television talk show, although that drama ended more happily. Gezen and co-defendant Metin Akpınar were acquitted this past March, but they were on the hook for four years had their trials gone against them. Turkey’s tyrants, in other words, take Müjdat Gezen very seriously indeed. But knowing all that just makes it harder to grasp what led him to make a film like this, and the deeper I dig, the more baffling it becomes.
I should emphasize that Homoti isn’t like Badi, the infamous “Turkish E.T.” That film was part of the decades-long tradition of Turkish-made copies of foreign hits enabled by the country’s nigh-total lack of legal protection for intellectual property. Badi was not only a commercial film, but one that beat the real E.T. onto Turkish theater screens by about a year. Homoti, in contrast, was never officially released at all, and may never have been intended to be in the first place. Even Gezen professes not to know how it got out, but it first surfaced on bootleg VHS tapes for sale in shops catering to Germany’s Turkish immigrant community. Nor is Homoti merely a cheap, unauthorized copy of its model. Notice the title. The reason why it’s called that is because the titular alien visitor is gay; if I were given the job of producing an English-language home video edition, I’d translate the title as L.G.B.E.T. As that ought to imply, Homoti is to some extent a satire against Turkish social conservatism during the Evren era (broadly construed to include not merely the three years of military rule, but also his subsequent term as Turkey’s elected president). But it also seems to be a satire on quite a few other things, as well: tabloid journalism, the decidedly suspect and obviously provisional nature of democracy under the new post-coup constitution, possibly even the surely surreal experience of catching fallout from the overseas marketing blitzes of Hollywood blockbusters that won’t arrive at your own local theater for years. Mostly, though, Homoti is 80-odd minutes that feel like three times that, much of it given over to watching a very short person in a grotesquely cheap monster suit chat with Gezen and his friends in a shabby suburban Istanbul living room.
Ali (Gezen himself) is a reporter for Milliyet (“Nationality”), a newspaper that, from the look of things, is situated somewhere between the New York Post and The Weekly World News in terms of journalistic integrity and reputability. (Milliyet is a real paper, by the way. I don’t know what it was like in 1987, but nowadays its world-news reporting seems to consist largely of translated articles licensed from those infamous British gammon-rags, the Sun and the Daily Mail.) He’s in danger of losing his job for underperformance when a stray remark from his editor, Altan (Altan Erbulak), gives him the idea to fake up a story about a UFO sighting. He builds himself a flying saucer out of a trash can lid, then tosses it repeatedly into the air in order to take a series of suitably blurry and ambiguous photos of the “alien craft” seeming to fly over his neighbors’ houses. Ali gets distracted from this enterprise, though, when he notices the very real flying saucer that has landed in the shelter of a nearby grove of trees. More incredible still, the pilot— a short, brown, lumpy, flat-headed, but otherwise more or less humanoid creature with an ass like a girl in a Robert Crumb cartoon— is standing outside the vessel watching him. As you might imagine, Ali is just wild about this apparent change in his fortunes, and asks the extraterrestrial visitor for an interview.
The alien is called Homoti (the man in the rubber suit is Saim Bugay), and he hails from the planet Homon. Evidently he came to Earth for a respite from life under a tyrannical government, and while he doesn’t mind answering any question that Ali might care to ask, he begs the reporter not to publicize his visit. That would go over badly with the rulers of Homon, and dire punishment— maybe even something as brutal as an entire day of house arrest!— would result upon his eventual return home. Needless to say, that’s not at all what Ali wanted to hear. He’s a decent enough guy as journalistic frauds go, however, so he reluctantly accepts Homoti’s terms, especially once the alien promises to make it up to him somehow. Like, maybe Homoti could use his vaguely defined psionic powers to whip up some even weirder phenomenon that Ali could report on later?
Meanwhile, a truly insufferable woman named Hatce (Perran Kutman) is roving from store to store in the market district, annoying one shopkeeper after another into giving her free stuff just to make her go away. This is Ali’s mom, so you’d better get used to her. Hatce adjusts with impressive ease to the discovery that her son has brought home a buttock-goblin from outer space, but her friend and neighbor, Haydar (Savaş Dinçel)— a flighty queen whose characterization lays it on rather thick even for a dumb comedy from 1987— is not so flexible when he comes over for coffee that evening. Once Haydar overcomes his initial case of the vapors, however, he and Homoti will get along just fine. After all, the alien is “one of us,” as Haydar puts it.
Back at work the next day, Ali learns that he’s been assigned to mentor Ayşegül (Bahar Öztan, from Perverted Woman and Insatiable), a recently graduated journalism student who has taken an internship at Milliyet. It’s immediately obvious that Ayşegül is a poor fit for the paper’s institutional culture, her head filled as it is with wild notions that the news media should aspire to truthfulness and accuracy. On her first collaboration with Ali, however, it proves possible to live up to her ideals while simultaneously living down to his concept of newsworthiness. That’s because Homoti wills into existence an Arab sheik with a flying carpet for them to film— he’s both technically real for as long as the manifestation lasts and sensationally bizarre! Altan is flabbergasted when he sees the footage, but although it seems like just the sort of thing he’d want to run a story on, the editor regretfully nixes the idea. Milliyet’s readers may be suckers, but there’s still such a thing as plausibility, even for them. Just the same, Altan wants very badly to know how on Earth Ali found a man with an actual flying carpet, which eventually leads to him meeting Homoti as well. Again the alien must make clear the ill fate that would befall him on Homon if his presence on Earth became widely known, and Altan rather startlingly agrees to join his subordinates in keeping the secret.
Ali, however, has a rival at Milliyet, an even less scrupulous reporter by the name of Kadir (Suat Sungur). Kadir’s been watching Ali closely ever since rumors of his possible firing started to circulate, clearly coveting the other man’s desk in the newsroom. As a result of his surveillance, Kadir has become convinced that Ali is hiding something big— a scoop worth stealing, perhaps, or maybe even an exploitable vice or vulnerability. One day, he goes so far as to visit Ali’s house at an hour when he knows his rival won’t be home, in the hope of persuading Hatce to let him in so that he might case the joint while pretending to leave a message for his coworker, or some such thing. But instead of Hatce, it’s Homoti who answers the door—thereby answering as well every question that Kadir had about what Ali was up to. Knowing the scoop of a lifetime when he sees it, Kadir kidnaps the alien, but gets a great deal more than he bargained for when Homoti brings his mental powers to bear on his abductor. This may be Homoti’s widest divergence from the E.T. model, for it means that human greed and cruelty aren’t the decisive factor in sending the alien back to his homeworld (although we haven’t seen the last of Kadir yet). Rather, the problem is that Homoti has fallen in love with Ali, even as Ali has fallen in love with Ayşegül. Homon has a culture of free love, in which marriage, monogamy, and maybe even sexual orientation as we understand it are unknown. (That last bit may sound odd in the context of a movie called Homoti, but I get the impression that Turkish pop culture in the 80’s drew no clear distinctions among homosexual, bisexual, and transsexual identities, tending to collapse the latter two into the former. In any case, it probably makes more sense than anything else in this movie that a species with no apparent external genitalia or obvious secondary sex characteristics wouldn’t give much weight to whether the objects of their affections were built for laying eggs or for fertilizing them.) Homoti is therefore ill equipped to handle romantic rejection, especially from someone who demonstrates as much affection for him as Ali. So rather than stay on Earth, permanently excluded from a relationship that he’s culturally incapable of understanding, he tearfully climbs back aboard his flying saucer (wait— how is it that nobody else has noticed that thing by now?!), and departs for Homon.
It seems important to mention at this point that, at least so far as I’ve been able to determine, Müjdat Gezen is not himself gay. At any rate, he’s been married to at least two different women over the course of his life. Certainly one needn’t be gay to care enough about the hardships that sexual minorities face under conservative regimes to make art dealing with those issues in one way or another, but Gezen’s apparent straightness does foreclose the most obvious possible explanation for Homoti’s existence. On the other hand, it makes it easier to understand the portrayal of Haydar, whose whole personality is one vast litany of crude stereotypes. No one should be surprised that in 1987, even the closest friends of friends of Dorothy were harboring a ton of unexamined prejudices. But that very fact makes it doubly interesting that Gezen spends the first two acts teasing us with the possibility that Ali— his own character— may be homosexual as well, albeit securely in the closet. Ali plays remarkably hard to get when Ayşegül first begins making overtures toward him, hinting obliquely that there’s some important obstacle to their becoming an item, which he is unable to reveal to her until he knows her well enough to be assured of her trustworthiness. Naturally it turns out that he’s just talking about his new extraterrestrial housemate, but for quite a while there it sounds like he could have more than one meaning in mind. That possibility is underscored by a curious exchange of dialogue between Ali and Hatce when he first introduces her to Homoti. Hatce at first takes the alien for a talking monkey, but then this happens:
In light of what later develops between Ali and Ayşegül, we can read his words here as referring to Homoti’s sentience— he’s not a monkey, but a person, however physically inhuman he might appear. But in the moment, it sure does look like Ali is saying that he and his mom are both queer like Homoti. After all, that’s definitely what Haydar means when he uses the same phrase later. Even more remarkably, it rather looks like Ali is implying that his mom is, biologically speaking, his dad, and I’m not all sure we’re not actually supposed to come away with the latter impression. Of course, I’m not at all sure we are, either.
It should be obvious by now that Homoti led me down an entire warren’s worth of intriguing rabbit holes, and I’m grateful to it for that. But before I could go down any of them, I had to watch the film itself, which frankly is a fate that I would wish on very few people. I know I’ve made it sound like a normal movie’s worth of stuff happens in Homoti, but that simply isn’t true. Most of the plot-advancing scenes are like two minutes here, four minutes there, three minutes over thataway, and between those, it’s just endless, endless expanses of Homoti jawing with various combinations of the other characters about how things are done on their respective planets, while gingerly tiptoeing in circles around the taboo topic of homosexuality. By the time it’s all over, you will know Müjdat Gezen’s late-80’s living room as if it were your own. Hatce’s incessant, hectoring croak will imprint itself upon your brain-meat as indelibly as that of your least favorite elementary school teacher. Homoti’s droopy, hangdog babble and protuberant rubber ass will haunt your dreams.
There are, however, three sequences that might be characterized as highlights of the film, if we permit a very strange definition of “highlight.” The first two are woefully inadequate special effects set pieces, with the easier one to describe being the bit with the flying carpet. Apparently Gezen knew somebody who had access to a chroma key rig, because that’s unmistakably how the carpet effect was created. We’re talking about a public-access cable level of technical sophistication here— maybe even a low-wattage 1970’s UHF television level. The folks at WBFF-45 when I was a kid did a much more convincing job making Captain Chesapeake look like he really was hosting the weekday afternoon cartoon block from the deck of a boat out on the bay, let me tell you! Then there’s the psychic projection that Homoti implants in Ali’s mind the first time he demonstrates his paranormal powers. It’s a nonsensical grab bag of primitive CGI imagery, and I think it might literally be a Commodore Amiga screen saver routine. But “best” of all is the cameo appearance by E.T. himself, courtesy of one of the countless cheap toys that flooded all the world’s junk shops and dime stores in 1982. Theoretically, Homoti is calling up an old buddy of his via his hand-held subspace communication device, but what the camera actually shows us is the aforementioned toy reflected in the mirror of a woman’s powder compact. That’s nothing if not inventive, even if the scene in which it happens serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever.
*The Turkish version of the Latin alphabet includes a few letters that ours doesn't, and it assigns very different values to some of the letters that English-speakers will recognize. That being the case, I thought it wise to include a rough pronunciation guide:
c is the letter that really throws most English-speakers. It's pronounced like the "j" in "jockstrap." Seriously.
ç is like the "ch" in "chew." Pay attention to what your mouth does to make that sound; now subject our "j"/their "c" to the same level of scrutiny. You see what they did there?
ğ is silent, but it elongates the vowel immediately preceeding it.
i is pronounced like the "i" in the name "Tina."
ı, on the other hand, is an almost colorless vowel sound, akin to the "e" in "the."
j has the same value as it does in French or Portuguese, like in "Rio de Janero."
ö and ü sound just the way they do in German.
ş is pronounced like the "sh" in "shark."