In the opening scenes of Pelin Esmer’s heartwarming documentary, the sublime and the quotidian are beautifully intertwined. The tranquil sight of a group of older women enjoying a seaside dip is juxtaposed with a striking view of the Roman amphitheatre overlooking the deep blue ocean. Unassuming in appearance, the women quickly transform into thespians, taking over the ancient site and making it a rehearsal space for an amateur production of King Lear. Coming from an impoverished rural background, this unlikely peasant-women theatre troupe brings the magic of Shakespeare to remote Turkish villages where even the basic staple of drinking-water is nonexistent.
Their performances often take place on school playgrounds, and are rudimentary in terms of costuming and staging. Wearing their own clothes, the women give Shakespeare a regional otherworldliness. And alongside the evident communal pleasure inspired by such events, the off-stage interactions between the performers and the villagers are equally fascinating. Zeynep, who plays Lear, confides her youthful hope of becoming a nurse, which was was quickly quashed by her father’s order that she must stick to raising goats. Performing has ignited a transformative sense of confidence in Zeynep, however. And the young girl she confides in has her own dream of teaching, though her future seems uncertain.
The film’s freewheeling structure makes for a great intimacy with its subjects but it doesn’t help the viewer with the physical orientation of events, especially not those unfamiliar with the local geography. However, though modest in terms of visuals and scope, Queen Lear is an endearing ode to the collective power of art and a subtle call for gender equality in Turkey.
• Queen Lear is available on 18 April on True Story.