CANNES 2023 :: Competition Review: About Dry Grasses
by Fabien Lemercier, Cineuropa 20/05/2023
CANNES 2023: Nuri Bilge Ceylan helms a new opus in his inimitable signature style, furtively casting an eye over agonising existential indecision with consummate cinematic mastery.
A ravishingly cinematic piece of work that seems designed to spark animated, if not acrimonious, debate. --Lee Marshall, Screen International
Written by Ceylan, Akin Aksu and Ebru Ceylan, his latest stunner “About Dry Grasses”—Ceylan’s best feature since “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”—flutters with all these pictorial qualities and emotional dispositions. --Tomris Laffly, TheWrap
The sublime opening shot of About Dry Grasses, the new film by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, screened in competition at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, features a man walking alone in the majestic white landscape of a snowy Anatolia. Admittedly, "we know the routine", the Turkish master’s preference for a deliberate pace, his cinematographic social science of sailing on a reflective mirror over the rough waters of the mundane and a human nature that is bristling with contradictions, petty betrayals of idealism, double talk and the paradoxes of buried feelings suddenly bubbling up to the surface.
However, the director has such a perfect knowledge of how to grasp and orchestrate these portraits and perspectives, with total mastery of his art, that he digs down to the very essence, moulding the imperceptible like a letter that is unsealed and opened for whosoever wishes to read it.
"You’ve had a close shave; you’ve had a brush with disaster; students are accusing you of improper conduct."Samet (the excellent Deniz Celiloğlu) and Kenan (Musab Ekici) are in the chief education officer’s office, dumbfounded. For the last four years, the two teachers, who are colleagues and housemates, have shared the same humdrum day-to-day routine (albeit immersed in a friendly ambiance) at a secondary school in a remote and depressing village, which Samet dreams of leaving behind for Istanbul thanks to a transfer at the end of the current school year. "We’re guilty, but we don’t know what we’re guilty of!"
The 76th Cannes Film Festival – Photocall for the film “Kuru Otlar Ustune” (About Dry Grasses – Les herbes seches) in competition – Cannes, France, May 20, 2023. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and cast members Ece Bagci, Merve Dizdar, Deniz Celiloglu and Musab Ekici pose. (Reuters)
Even though it is hushed up at the management level, the allegation sours Samet’s relationship with his students because he suspects Sevim (Ece Bağci) without being entitled to investigate directly, as dictated by the regulations. As for his friendship with Kenan, this is gradually and surreptitiously put in jeopardy when Nuray (Merve Dizdar), an attractive teacher and activist returning home after having fallen victim to an attack, bursts into their lives. These two events intertwine like just as many ticking time bombs…
Ece Bağci in About Dry Grasses
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is an expert in the art of keeping us at a distance while drip-feeding us tiny nuggets of information that allow us to make sense of the environment and the characters in a realistic and utterly genuine tone, before abruptly plunging right to the source, into those grey areas where people’s real motivations and the most ordinary of acts take on the proportions of controversial debates on good and evil, education, the individual and the community, youth, truth and falsehood, love, activism, and so on. Here, he helms a sprawling work that is enthralling in its capacity to capture and reflect on life. "I am human, and I think nothing that is human is alien to me" – these lines by the Latin poet Terence, slipped into the movie’s running time, fit the Turkish filmmaker like a glove, as he also knows perfectly how to stage a scene and weave inexpressible political metaphors into his work.
About Dry Grasses was produced by Turkey’s NBC Film, France’s Memento Production and Germany’s Komplizen Film, and was co-produced by Sweden’s Second Land and Film i Väst, and by Playtime, Arte France Cinéma, Bayerischer Rundfunk and TRT Sinema. It is sold overseas by Playtime.