Over one in three women in Turkey will suffer domestic abuse in their lifetime, and many hundreds die each year because of their husbands' violence. We follow one woman as she visits the site of her attack one night, relating the story of how her husband took a shotgun and fired at her because she wanted a divorce. The reason, he said, was because he hurt his male pride, and no woman should be able to do that to him. Many thousands of men feel the same way, and Istanbul lawyer Ipek Bozkurt represents the victims who survive, often with horrific, life-changing injuries, in the hope that they will receive justice...
The trouble with that is, the dice are loaded in favour of the men, and British director Chloe Fairweather's steely-eyed look at the insults to decency and legality that constitute the decisions made against the abused and often murdered women made no bones about what she regarded as the motives for not allowing them a fair chance. What started as a documentary on specifically two of these now-disabled women expands its remit not long in to point the finger at the patriarchal society as endorsed and promoted by Turkey's President Erdogan which she and many others believe has encouraged the subjugation of women and girls.
There's no nice way of putting it: this is a disturbing documentary, and if you dismiss it as just being about Turkey and having no bearing on your own country, keep in mind that femicide and domestic abuse is on the rise across the world, as is the far right politics that this film does not believe is any coincidence. In Britain, for example, two or three women or girls are killed by men every week, so you cannot go blaming some sickness in Turkey's culture individually, it's a problem suffered globally. For that reason, despite a mood of finding a light in the darkness, Dying to Divorce paints a picture unavoidably bleak for its noble cause.
Part of what makes it so disturbing are the effects of this brutality we see on the two subjects Fairweather chose among Bozkurt's clients. One woman was shot in the arms and legs by her adulterous husband when she asked for a divorce, leaving her without legs and semi-paralysed in her arms; she gave him six children and we learn she is now not able to look after them so they stay with her husband's family: he bleats pathetically from prison that he was justified because his male pride was offended. The other woman was a successful TV presenter on Bloomberg who left her job to get married: two days after she gave birth, her husband smashed her over the head multiple times in their bedroom during an argument. This left her physically handicapped and struggling to speak, though she makes progress in that regard the further this progresses.
She is also not allowed to see her child, who must stay with her father who denies everything, despite all evidence to the contrary. As all this is going on (filming started in 2015), Erdogan stages a coup and a referendum that sees him with increased powers, meaning powers that allow him to crack down on any dissent - we are told at the time this documentary had been made, fifteen hundred lawyers, including Bozkurt's friends and colleagues, have been imprisoned for pursuing human rights cases in Turkey. As is usual with these kinds of totalitarian states, patriotism is appealed to as an excuse for the erosion of rights, and that includes the rights of women as violent men are effectively given a slap on the wrist for vile acts against them. Although Fairweather was somewhat unconvincingly intent on illustrating the positivity of protests and movements in the cause of feminism, the picture we see has no end to the grim reality other than the knowledge no regime lasts forever. But if you are not some terminally unreconstructed chauvinist, it will make you angry, shocked and angry.
[DYING TO DIVORCE is in cinemas from 26th November 2021. Click here for the official website.]