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Nuri Ceylan - About Dry Grasses Review



- By Lopa K


Nuri Ceylan's About Dry Grasses becomes a frontrunner in the main competition of Cannes Film Festival 2023 after a unanimous positive reception. And with the Turkish director known for his philosophical yet intriguing stories, viewers expected nothing less from About Dry Grasses.


In a cold town in Anatolia where it is either an extremely cold winter or dry summer, Samet leads a boring life with dreams of moving to Istanbul for some excitement. He works as an art teacher and his extrovertness makes him a favourite in an otherwise cold town of locals. He is good-natured and friendly even with his students like the little girl Sevim who becomes enamoured with him due to his kindness towards her. Their closeness may be a little too close but it doesn't cross any lines, an innocent teacher-student relation who appreciate each other. But when an incident has Sevim angry with Samet, she accuses him of inappropriate behaviour. If that wasn't enough, while everyone starts questioning his friendly nature including the principal who has known him for years, Samet and his roommate, Kenan start falling for the same woman, Nuray. 


But like all of Ceylan's films, About Dry Grasses is more than just it's plot. All of the different elements come together to give us an immersive experience. At several intervals, Samet's portraits of the locals act as transition shots which make viewers feel like they are present in the town, living with them, getting a glimpse of their lives. Emotions buried deep inside explode as the characters try to understand each other. Nuray is a realist while Samet is an idealist which leads to a clashing of values brilliantly portrayed in their dinner scene. 


The snowy, cold landscape is juxtaposed against the warmth of Samet with his close ones. He's friendly but like his harsh environment he starts becoming cold, keeping his distance after Sevim's allegation which makes us sympathise with him. And despite all of his actions which are innocent and unrelated, they are unfortunately linked to Sevim's accusation. It shows how actions taken out of context can be interpreted according to what people want to see. 


About Dry Grasses is a beautiful story about human complexes, but it meanders a lot. The characters' motives and relations are all established in the beginning itself; there is no need for so many filler scenes which makes it too long. Ceylan needs to remember he's making a movie for an audience, in a time period where no one has the patience to sit through a movie with the promise that the ending will be all worth it. In About Dry Grasses' case, the last act does make up for it's faults, but it loses its viewers who may not have the time to sit through it all. Only after 1/3rd of the film, the story finally unfolds. And the first half doesn't even work on developing Samet and Sevim's relationship as it keeps digressing to the point that it makes viewers wonder if the film has forgotten it's original plot. Especially with an urgent rise of tension, it needs a quick pace to make the unravelling satisfying. The movie only piques our interest when the conflict finally takes place. 


But we can forgive the weak structure as the film hooks you in for good when it finally picks up. You can't take your eyes off Samet. The contrast from a sweet and naive guy to a frustrated Samet who is angry with himself and the one he trusted makes viewers hang at the edge of their seats as they try to predict his next move. He has his outbursts of anger initially, but it starts taking over him. He's human after all, he can't control himself. He starts becoming sly, a new side to him is unearthed that affects his relations with others. 


Well, despite it's faults, About Dry Grasses is fulfilling and technically well done in all terms from sombre music to the signature static shots with a shocking plot twist at the end that you won't see coming. It makes one feel like they are watching a realist novel which discourses on philosophy, as different side stories like that of Nuray, Kenan and Sevim come together in the end.


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