Have You Ever Seen Fireflies?
By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Turkish woman's quirky life; language, social commentary.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Being different can be a curse and a benefit. Being a woman can be a drawback in many societies. Someone will always be bossing you around, so it’s important to learn how to handle that. "It's perfect that nothing is perfect."
Positive Role Models
Gulseren is part stand-up comedian, part truth-telling pain in the neck. Despite her intelligence and abilities, she never bends to conform to anyone's wishes, which often works against her. She sees the humor in everything, which her father adores, but which often makes her seem like a clownish outlier.
Violence & Scariness
A woman leaves her husband because he beat her. She returns to her unsympathetic mother with a black eye. Young women are seen as powerless commodities to be given to wealthy families' son in exchange for financial stability. Gulseren recognizes the practice and sabotages all attempts to sell her off. Family members die. A man is repeatedly arrested by authorities and jailed for political views. During a period of unrest, a man is shot dead on the street.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
To chase away a matchmaker, Gulseren invents a story about the woman's daughter showing her breasts publicly.
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"F--k," "s--t," "t-ts," "hell," "butt," "getting laid," "crap," "bastard," and "ass."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults drink and smoke cigarettes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Have You Ever Seen Fireflies? is a Turkish comic drama that follows the life of a rebellious girl, then woman, then senior, as interviewed by a camera crew interested in her unique mathematical abilities. Turkish political upheavals provide the backdrop to this family saga about a smart girl who refuses to conform to social norms and is labeled crazy owing to her buoyant refusal to be dragged down. A woman leaves her husband because he beat her. She returns to her unsympathetic mother with a black eye. Young women are seen as powerless commodities to be given to wealthy families' son in exchange for financial stability. During a period of unrest, a man is shot dead on the street. Adults drink and smoke cigarettes. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "t-ts," "hell," "butt," "getting laid," "crap," "bastard," and "ass." (In Turkish with English subtitles.)
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Have You Ever Seen Fireflies?
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What's the Story?
In HAVE YOU EVER SEEN FIREFLIES? Gulseren (Ecem Erkek) is an aging, gray-haired, chatterbox interviewed in her senior home by young videographers interested in her talent for multiplying four-digit numbers in her head. Refusing to be limited, she walks them through the narrative of her entire life from birth in Istanbul, Turkey in 1951, through political intrigue, uprisings, communist influences, religious right influences, and a military takeover. The narrative is bookended by the interview, leaving most of the action in the family's inherited Istanbul mansion. Her loud and argumentative family come and go with uncles arrested for either communist or religious convictions. Dissidents cover the mansion with political graffiti while Gulseren dodges arranged marriages, delights her father with her whimsical and insightful outlook, and disturbs her joyless mother, who just wants to fit in and be taken seriously. Too far ahead of her teachers by far, she's bounced from school for outspoken insolence that delights fellow students but undermines the faculty. With no typing skills, she's hired as a secretary simply because she makes her employer laugh, but his company self destructs in white collar fraud, leaving her to turn the family mansion into a boarding house to support her and her ever-griping mother. Their once-quiet street becomes a noisy urban thoroughfare filled with reveling, drinking partyers. All along, Gulseren can summon hundreds of magical fireflies that others don't see, seemingly a metaphor for her optimism and her preference to live in the beautiful world she can create rather than the ugly one that actually exists.
Is It Any Good?
Have You Ever Seen Fireflies? feels talky and overlong, perhaps the inevitable failings of a stage play ineptly transplanted to film. The lead character's life from adolescence to her seventies is portrayed by the same 30-ish actor, making her barely believable as a teenager and comically miscast in a gray rag-mop wig and unconvincing aging makeup. Add to that a talky, jokey script, and a decision to play the lead character as a kind of aggressive stand-up comedian who enjoys tossing acid one-liners at everyone who gets in her way, and we are left to wonder why we would spend the time to hear the life story she wants to tell. Why indeed is she being interviewed by the videographers is the recurring question, and it's never answered.
Given the attempt at historical context as a life plays against Turkish national events, this may have appeal to a Turkish audience with vivid memories of the happenings described but, despite some endearing moments, it may seem contrived and preachy to anyone else. Attempts at profundity abound, but blanket statements scattered throughout just feel like breadcrumbs dropped haphazardly rather than a coherent world view.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Gulseren's insistent refusal to behave at school, to marry the man chosen by her parents, and to embody a demure version of womanhood. This infuriates her mother but delights her father. Which parent does the movie want us to sympathize with? How can you tell?
The filmmakers take a position about the importance that chance plays in every life. What do you think they want us to believe about the political events and forces that influence our lives?
Do Gulseren's witty and rebellious responses do her any good? What lesson does her rebelliousness teach? Is the movie optimistic about the influence rebellious people can have on their worlds?
- On DVD or streaming: April 9, 2021
- Cast: Ecem Erkek, Engin Alkan, Ushan Cakir, Merve DIzdar, Bulent Colak, Devrim Yakut
- Director: Andac Haznedaroglu
- Inclusion Information: Middle Eastern/North African actors
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 17, 2023
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