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Exploring Human Fragility in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “About Dry Grasses” | Review

A young teacher in Anatolia seeks escape to Istanbul amidst personal and societal contradictions. Ceylan's film beautifully captures the fragile essence of human existence.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "About Dry Grasses" (2023)

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About Dry Grasses (2023)
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Some films last an hour and a half but feel endless. Then there’s the cinema of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose films are often twice as long but seem essential, like a nourishing flow for the eyes, mind, and conscience.

His latest masterpiece — and the term is well-earned — About Dry Grasses (Turkish: Kuru Otlar Üstüne), presented in competition at Cannes 2023, centers on a young middle school teacher who has been working for years in a small Kurdish village in deep Anatolia, eager to escape to civilized Istanbul.

Samet, the protagonist, teaches art history, enjoys photographing his surroundings, and secretly gives gifts to a favorite student. Despite his apparent confidence and undeniable charm, he is unresolved, ambiguous, and restless, driven by individualism and nihilism bordering on cynicism, preventing him from forming genuine relationships with those around him. For Samet, truth is a form of deception. The Turkish filmmaker, supported by Deniz Celiloglu’s portrayal of Samet and the splendid Merve Dizdar (Best Actress at Cannes) as Nuray, a young colleague and his love interest, uses these well-crafted characters to represent contemporary Turkish society, increasingly contradictory and built on the thin line between apparent freedoms and underlying injustices. In a slow crescendo of dialogue and eloquent silences against breathtaking landscapes, typical of his imaginative cinema, Bilge Ceylan, the 2014 Palme d’Or winner, brings the story to its most powerful essence, a spiraling journey where humanity loses itself to come to terms with its nature.

The dry leaves, transitioning from winter snow to summer yellow in an instant, represent the two seasons of life in a remote corner of the world where everything blends, and time seems suspended in an endless past, revealing the enigma of human existence. Samet, capable of thinking and reflecting, embodies reason that must surrender to the fragility of fate, attributing to his student that small sign of transcendence necessary to survive his weariness of hope. A monumental work in artistic, narrative, and thematic scope, About Dry Grasses adds an exemplary piece to Bilge Ceylan’s already extraordinary filmography, representing the best cinema can offer.

Anna Maria Pasetti

Il Fatto Quotidiano, June 15, 2024

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