The Movie Waffler Dublin International Film Festival 2024 Review - ABOUT DRY GRASSES | The Movie Waffler

Dublin International Film Festival 2024 Review - ABOUT DRY GRASSES

About Dry Grasses review
An accusation of inappropriate behaviour towards their pupils drives a wedge between two teachers.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Starring: Deniz Celiloğlu, Merve Dizdar, Musab Ekici, Ece Bağcı, Erdem Şenocak, Yüksel Aksu

About Dry Grasses poster

Screenwriting gurus are notorious for giving terrible advice to budding writers. Their approach to creating a piece of art usually has all the nuance of a career guidance teacher instructing a pupil how to polish a curriculum vitae. One of the most cretinous pieces of advice such instructors like to give is the idea of getting into a scene late and leaving it early. It's a mindset that reduces storytelling to little more than a delivery vessel for a series of key points, and wrongly believes the point of a scene is merely to get a piece of information across as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Most great filmmakers ignore this maxim, none more so than Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan. His films usually run past the three hour mark because he gets into his scenes early and leaves them late. He's not concerned with spotlighting the point of a particular scene, rather he prefers to obfuscate it by having his characters bicker for so long that they reach a point where they forget what they were meant to be arguing about. This makes his films tangibly real in a way few other filmmakers have been able to crack. His protagonists aren't easily defined because he doesn't reduce their development to a few key points that can be summed up on a wall of post-it notes. We spend so much time with them that we realise their actions often contradict their words, and we come to recognise that they may not even understand themselves. Do any of us really understand ourselves?

About Dry Grasses review

With Winter Sleep, The Wild Pear Tree and now About Dry Grasses, Ceylan has completed a thematic trilogy centred on narcissistic men who believe themselves to be above their rural Anatolian surrounds. The embittered protagonist of About Dry Grasses is Samet (Deniz Celiloglu), a young teacher stationed in, you guessed it… rural Anatolia. Being the male protagonist of a Ceylan film, he's none too happy about this. Samet dreams of leaving for a post in Istanbul once the current school year ends. But first he needs to get through a harsh winter.

Samet's troubles are added to when he and fellow teacher and housemate Kenan (Musab Ekici) are accused of behaving inappropriately towards a pair of female pupils. This might seem like the setup for a legal drama but the accusations are buried by the school board and Samet and Kenan are allowed to immediately return to their jobs, teaching the very girls who levelled the accusations.

Samet learns that one of the accusers is Sevim (Ece Bagci), a precocious pupil to whom he has displayed a highly unprofessional level of favouritism, going so far as to gift her a make-up mirror and allowing her to link arms as they walk through the school corridors. A search of pupils' bags by the teaching staff had unearthed a love letter penned by Sevim, which Samet retrieved but told her he had torn up and thrown away. Samet believes this to be the reason behind Sevim's accusation.

About Dry Grasses review

It's never hinted that Samet has any sinister intentions towards Sevim, whom he seems to view as a kindred spirit, the one pupil he feels might make something of herself. Viewing her accusation as a betrayal, Samet sinks further into his disillusionment. We never learn who Sevim's love letter was actually addressed to, but Samet certainly assumes he was to be the recipient. There's nothing to suggest that Samet would physically act on a declaration of love from the child, but he's such a narcissist that he seems to encourage her placing him on a pedestal.

Like most narcissists, Samet really hates himself, and his inability to love himself means he doesn't care for anyone else either. After meeting Nuray (Merve Dizdar), a teacher from another school, Samet decides to try to pair her romantically with Kenan. You get the unnerving sense that it's not an act of altruism, rather that Samet needs to create a love rival so he can feel like more of a victor when Nuray ultimately chooses him over Kenan. When he realises his plan has backfired and that Kenan and Nuray have been secretly spending time together, Samet cruelly decides to disrupt their relationship.

At one point Nuray mentions a detail about her father that suggests she could be talking about the aging grumpy protagonist of Ceylan's Winter Sleep. She claims Samet reminds her of her old man, and it doesn't seem to be meant as a compliment. Samet is a despicable individual, but in a very recognisably human way. We spend so much time in his company that we're forced to start questioning if we have a little more in common with Samet than we might like.

About Dry Grasses review

Ceylan's trademark lengthy philosophical discussions/debates/arguments are present once again. The centerpiece of a Ceylan film is often an extended scene in which a man breaks a woman's spirit. Here it's a particularly uncomfortable interaction between Samet and Nuray at the latter's apartment. Nuray extends a dinner invitation to Samet and Kenan, but Samet withholds the invite from Kenan so he can spend the evening alone with Nuray. The scene becomes increasingly skin-crawling and disturbing, so much so that at one point Samet breaks the fourth wall and walks off the film's set, as though the actor playing him needed a break from inhabiting such a cad. Nuray willingly agrees to sleep with Samet, but it's as close as a consensual coupling gets to rape. Nuray is a victim of assault; she just doesn't realise it.

You would think spending over three hours in such unpleasant company would prove an ordeal but About Dry Grasses passes by in an instant. The length of their scenes makes Ceylan's films seem a lot shorter than their intimidating run times. We become so immersed and engrossed in each extended bout that we don't notice the time pass. Ceylan gets into his scenes early, often leaving a character to contemplate the ensuing drama before it unfolds, and he forces us to hang around to a point where we feel complicit in voyeurism. What Ceylan likes to do is get into his stories late and leave them early. We're dropped into a point in Samet's life where a lot has already occurred that we're not privy to, and we leave him at a stage where it seems he might be about to develop. What we get in between are a few months in the company of a man at his lowest ebb, embracing his worst self to keep him warm in a cold winter. It's not always easy to watch, but you dare not look away.

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