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About Dry Grasses Review

by Daniel Reynolds
4.0 out of 5.0 stars

Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s About Dry Grasses requires patience, though not because of the film’s length. Already known as a maker of long films (the shortest of his previous three still clocks in at over 2.5 hours), Ceylan’s latest sets a new high mark in runtime quantity (if not quality; I admit, this is the first of his I’ve watched). It’s the film’s protagonist, however, who offers and endures the true test—one that surprises and enthralls in equal measure.

Samet (Deniz Celiloglu) is at the centre of Aboue Dry Grasses. He’s a teacher working through years of mandatory service at a rural school, and despite his seemingly affable nature: Samet is not thrilled to be there. Matters are made worse for him by accusations of misconduct, which set Samet and his ensnared colleague Kenan (Musab Ekici) into motion. At the same time, the pair befriends another teacher, Nuray (a knife-sharp Merve Dizdar), who both mystifies and intrigues the two men. Befitting its epic runtime, and as co-written with wife Ebru and Akin Aksu, Ceylan constructs his film around a careful layering of details—much of them revealed through dense conversations between characters—which suggest just how complex life can be, even in this small town (to say nothing of the whole country). From this chosen outpost, Ceylan also captures the snowy expanses of inland Turkey, which are beautiful yet seem to erase even the idea of spring. It’s this physical (and mental) environment in which his characters struggle; none more than Celiloglu’s Samet, a man who appears at once caring, conniving, contemptuous, and recognizably human.

This liveliness makes About Dry Grasses appear ready to (quite literally) escape its cinematic trappings. The film’s narrative isn’t real, but thanks to Ceylan’s capable touch and the work of his actors, it could be—right up to its long-coming end. Speaking of which, the film does eventually get to the dry grasses promised by its title, becoming a wry comment of its own: progress takes patience, too.

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