Vizontele Tuuba, a satire set in southeast Turkey in the turbulent months before the generals took control, was seen by 2.4 million people in the first five weeks of its release, with ticket sales above $14 million.
 
"In the past, (filmmakers) could not have touched the coup," said Mehmet Ali Birand, a commentator for CNN Turk.

"This is typical of the environment Turkey's reform efforts have created. It is a clear product of the democratisation we are seeing in Turkey," said Birand, referring to a more tolerant climate as the country strives to meet European Union human rights criteria.
 
Martial law

The film tells the story of a disgraced librarian exiled to a backwater and the love between his disabled daughter and the town simpleton.

Tensions simmer between leftist factions, a hapless mayor and the local military commander.

In reality, street fighting between the far-left and nationalists claimed 5000 lives before the military seized control, and many Turks welcomed martial law as a cure for the violence. It was the military's third putsch (coup) in 20 years.

Turkey is trying to join the
European Union 

But the hard-line constitution left by the generals is now seen as the source of human rights problems that are hampering Turkey's attempt to join the European Union.
 
Turkey has taken steps to further its EU candidacy, legislating reforms that would protect free expression and limit the role of the military in politics.

But human rights groups cite laws barring criticism of the military, one of Turkey's most respected institutions, as evidence that the country still has a way to go.

Taboos

Vizontele Tuuba reflects a more relaxed attitude towards an issue that was until recently taboo, the film's stars said.

"Showing people at home and overseas what we endured as recently as 1980 is part of the film's mission," Altan Erkekli, who plays the mayor, said in an interview.

"No film has dealt with the coup to this extent. Until now, it has been our bogeyman," she said. "We are able to cover this issue more comfortably now, because enough time has passed to heal some of the wounds"


Demet Akbag,
Actress

"We are presenting the mistakes that were made, that we suffered from these mistakes and that we want to enter the European Union so we don't make them again."

Only now, almost 25 years later, are audiences ready to confront one of Turkey's most painful episodes, said co-star Demet Akbag, who plays the mayor's wife.

"No film has dealt with the coup to this extent. Until now, it has been our bogeyman," she said. "We are able to cover this issue more comfortably now, because enough time has passed to heal some of the wounds."

Criticism

Some commentators say Vizontele Tuuba shies away from exploring the difficult parts of the period, touching on them only in the last part of the film.

"It has been criticised for not being tough enough," said film critic Alin Tasciyan of Milliyet newspaper. "But there are moments... when we see just how anti-democratic things were."

"Political movies just aren't made in Turkey. Vizontele Tuuba could do it because it remains a comedy," Tasciyan said.

Audiences prefer films that steer clear of sensitive issues in a country where just 15 movies are made each year, she said.

"It is certainly a political film but it remains within the parameters," said university student Mustafa Aras, after a showing in Istanbul.

"There is still only so much that can be shown in Turkey."