You don't need to have seen the other two parts of Turkish filmmaker Semih Kaplanoglu's Yusuf trilogy---2007's Yumurt (Egg) and 2008's St (Milk)---to fall under the spell of this contemplative drama about a boy (Altas) and his dad (Besikioglu), a rural beekeeper. (Though all three feature a character named Yusuf, Kaplanoglu won't confirm or deny that the films' protagonists are the same person in various stages of life.) In fact, you don't have to be familiar with Turkish film at all to sync up with the movie's rhythms; Kaplanoglu employs the lingua franca of a certain type of foreign filmmaking that causes art-house habitus to scream hosannas. Natural sound and dusky light color every frame. Long, quiet shots of pastoral settings are the norm, with the opening sequence achieving an exquisite beauty by simply observing a man and his mule gingerly making their way through a forest. Unsentimental scenes of kids behaving badly la early Kiarostami come into play. Nothing much seems to happen, even when tragedy strikes, yet the slow-and-low poetic style imbues every small gesture with monumental importance.
We've seen all of this before, in various languages and with different backgrounds, but the effect remains the same. And that's part of the problem: Though the movie's elliptical, delicate take on lost innocence more than earned it the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear award last year, there's a creeping sense of dj vu in almost every drawn-out meditative moment. Bal's familiarity doesn't breed contempt. It does make you wish, however, for something above and beyond the usual high-art-cinema catnip.