peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2024 06 07 AboutDryGrasses

About Dry Grasses (2023)

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Prompted by Shane Danielsen putting it on his best-of-2023 list. Second time around with co-writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan after Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. In two sittings due to length, ruining the minor characters in the process.

The scenario has an art teacher (Samet, Deniz Celiloglu) in what he expects to be his final year of mandatory teaching service at a remote village in Anatolia, Turkey. Istanbul beckons, he thinks, but before then he has to navigate a claim of inappropriate contact by two female students (age 13 or so, insinuating Lolita) and, more perilously, a love triangle involving his flatmate (Kenan, Musab Ekici) and a woman (Nuray, Merve Dizdar) from the nearby town, both also teachers. The other thing everyone says about this film is that Samet has lost hope and Nuray revives it but Samet has the vibe of a character that can cynically, selfishly mope anywhere, that he was and will be just as exploitative, unstable and unhappy wherever he goes. Ceylan leaves a vacuum where Samet's interiority should have been, and so much is left vague and unresolved that close attention to details of plot and characterisation goes unrewarded; better to look for the changing facial expressions and count the falling snowflakes.

There's some beautiful photography of white-topped mountains and so forth that made me feel so cold for the vast (3h 17m) runtime. The love triangle goes predictably and there is far too much talking in too many overlong scenes and not enough showing; the big climactic session on the couch where life philosophies are unpacked and dissected is rife with cliche and lacks the punch and insight of (even) the door test. But I guess when conditions are so brutal outside you've got to make do with what you've got.

The "weariness of hope" punchline is so trite and far less poetic than Milan Kundera's "the unbearable lightness of being" from further west, decades ago, under an even more repressive regime. It's a strange marketing slogan to revive so soon after Obama left office (taking all hope with him?) and during these doldrums of Biden. I found it impossible to invest in any of the characters or analysis.

Danielsen's review from Cannes 2023. I wasn't as riveted. Carlos Aguilar: four stars at Roger Ebert. "Neither hope nor despair should be fully believed." The bombastic scenes were ridiculous. "In reality, nothing is as glorious or as terrible as it seems, not even the landscape itself." — I beg to differ. Justin Chang: "languid steppe-by-steppe pacing and long, luxuriant, exquisitely sculpted conversations, but [...] also nimble, alert, and alive" — I guess this is philosophy for movie reviewers. The Chekhovian device does not go off! James Quandt surveys Ceylan's works and provides a more circumspect review. The intrusion of reality/movie making with about 44 minutes to go is indeed a clanger.