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About Dry Grasses

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
About Dry Grasses
Photograph: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A frustrated teacher in rural Turkey is the jumping-off point for Nuri Bilge Ceylan's latest study of a man ill-at-ease with the world

Anyone familiar with the Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Winter Sleep, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) won’t be surprised to find that About Dry Grasses is a long-haul, knotty, talky examination of one man’s alienated relationship with the world around him. Equally unsurprising is how he’s self-regarding and brittle – the latest in a line of such Ceylan characters. Samet (Deniz Celiloglu) is an art teacher in the fourth year of a posting to a remote school on the snowy East Anatolian steppes. It’s far from anywhere, and especially from Istanbul, as Samet will tell anyone who listens, whether his housemate and fellow teacher, Kenan (Musab Ekici), whose village background invites condescension from Samet, or Nuray (Merve Dizdar), a teacher at another school. She wears a prosthetic leg after a terrorist attack, and her faith in community, as opposed to Samet’s weary individualism, inspires an arresting encounter between the two.

The catalyst to much of what unfolds over the endlessly snowy months of this story is Semet’s relationship with a young pupil, 14-year-old Sevim (Ece Bagci), who’s he fond of, even giving her a gift when he returns from the school holidays. She likes him, too, in a childish way – a schoolgirls affection towards a friendly authority figure. It’s not a shock, then, when Semet is accused by the school of unprofessional conduct after an anonymous tip-off. He denies it, and the accusation is soon squashed by the local authorities, causing Semet to turn on Sevim, who swaps affection for aggression.

The question of inappropriate behaviour is not the point of the film; it’s left as unresolved and complicated, and more a trigger for creating a fuller portrait of this man – in no way a monster but self-destructive and frustrated. Semet’s behaviour leaves much to be desired – but also to chew on, with Ceylan’s drama building layers of interest, one interaction, conversation, event at a time.

About Dry Grasses is as serious as you’d expect from Ceylan, but there’s also a self-reflective, playful angle to this one, and a seam of black humour that’s been missing from his recent films. The drama is occasionally punctuated by a series of startling still images of local people – presumably shot by Semet and suggesting he’s not solely inward-looking – and there’s one crashing-of-the-fourth-wall moment that’s alarming and daring. It’s a rich, challenging film, a blizzard of experience and ideas.

In US theaters Feb 23. In UK cinemas Jul 26.

Dave Calhoun
Written by
Dave Calhoun

Cast and crew

  • Director:Nuri Bilge Ceylan
  • Screenwriter:Akin Aksu, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan
  • Cast:
    • Musab Ekici
    • Merve Dizdar
    • Deniz Celiloglu
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