Cannes 2023: 'About Dry Grasses' is Yet Another Profound Ceylan Film
by Alex Billington
May 20, 2023
Anyone who has been watching the films of the extraordinary Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan knows that he is a master. It's a fact. There's no debating or denying that he is one of the best Turkish filmmakers in cinema history. His ninth feature film, titled About Dry Grasses (which is also known as Kuru Otlar Üstüne in Turkish), is premiering at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival in France this summer. He has already won numerous awards at Cannes and other fests, including a Grand Prix for Once Upon a Time in Anatolia in 2011. There's no questioning his storytelling talents, it's only a matter of which films are better (or worse) and which films connect deeply with each individual viewer. Everyone will have a different relationship with each Ceylan film. He is consistently brilliant at writing, and every one of his film contains numerous scenes full of layered dialogue discussing different aspects of humanity. From our many flaws and imperfections, to relationships, politics, human nature, to the differences between cities and rural towns, and everything else.
The story at the center of About Dry Grasses focuses on a young Turkish teacher named Samet, played by Deniz Celiloglu. The film is set entirely in a small village in a snowy, cold remote region of Turkey. Samet goes to this village and works as a teacher for an elementary school, teaching the local kids about art and spending his evenings reading or chatting with his friend. He is accused of abusing a student. The story then morphs into something else, as he meets a woman named Nuray, played by Merve Dizdar, and attempts to pursue a relationship with her. He seems to lose all hope of escaping from this gloomy life. However, Nuray helps him gain a whole new perspective and challenges him to examine himself and admit his own flaws and limitations. The cast is wonderful. In all of Ceylan's films, there isn't a single character in them that doesn't feel entirely authentic, as if he is just filming real people from these towns telling their own stories. Their conversations and interactions are all so natural and immersive, and there isn't a single line of dialogue that isn't captivating. As with most of Ceylan's films, each scene could be analyzed endlessly they're so intricate.
About Dry Grasses is an exceptionally thoughtful, intelligent film about thousands of different thoughts to consider about humanity. It's hard to take hold of all of it on the first viewing. The main theme seems to be the idea of how wholesome and compassionate people from small, rural towns are – compared to the self-righteous arrogance and over-confidence of those who dream of big city life. It's not only about this, there's hundreds of ideas discussed throughout, as usual with Ceylan films. It's about humanity and how we project ourselves onto others. It's about implications and imperfections. It's about jealousy and desire, about what drives us to act a certain way even if it isn't what we truly want. There is one phenomenal scene involving a conversation between Samet and Nuray while at a dinner table in an apartment one evening. There is one particular shot in this scene that gave me the chills it's so perfect, followed by another thought-provoking breakaway shot right aftr. The film also features beautiful photographs of people from the distant corners of Turkey. The wonderful humanism of Ceylan's film is invigorating even with this being heavy with cynicism.
I will certainly admit - Ceylan's films are always a hard sell. I doubt I'll convince anyone to sit through a full 3 and 1/2 hours of this, especially knowing that it is hard to grasp of what is being discussed in one sitting. As I've grown to become a bigger and bigger fan of Ceylan, I've learned to appreciate simply being immersed in his worlds. Yes, they're always set in Turkey and it's mainly about the different experiences of Turkish people, however his conversations are so philosophical and intelligent that I find them mesmerizing. As with the excellent dinner table conversation in this, I want to go back and rewwatch it just to analyze everything they're saying. I may have missed a few sentences, but I still loved it and felt energized by this conversation and this back and forth discussion between these two people. There's a great deal of honesty and openness, along with intellectual discourse that is actually exciting and absorbing. If anything, I hope more brave film lovers will take their time to appreciate and sit with Ceylan and his films. Let them wash over you, let them spark some ideas in your mind, let them encourage you to have profound conversations with your friends.
Alex's Cannes 2023 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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