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'About Dry Grasses,' New York Film Festival 2023
'About Dry Grasses,' New York Film Festival 2023

Movie Review: ‘About Dry Grasses’ at the New York Film Festival

Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan endows his character-driven film About Dry Grasses with intriguing perspectives about the setting’s sociopolitical and cultural aspects. Currently screening in the 61st New York Film Festival’s Main Slate section until October 10, Ceylan’s feature reflects themes of Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters. If individuals live in the expectation of future dreams, despising present circumstances, yes, the grass looks greener elsewhere. However, achieving the expected green grass may never yield the desired result, if dry grasses inhabit one’s soul.

Using a bleak backdrop of winter and heavy snowfalls, Ceylan symbolizes his protagonist Samet’s (Deniz Celiloğlu) emotional interior. The Turkish director explores the remote region, culture and customs of western Anatolia. His setting cleverly reflects his character-driven story of bored, oppressed, alienated Samet, who can’t wait for a post in Istanbul.

Still photography and portraiture segment the film

Ceylan heightens the rugged landscape and people. Additionally, as turning points to move from one segment to the next, he uses phenomenal still photography and portraiture.

Balding, narcissistic, charming and explosive, Samet teaches art at a state school. He rooms with a younger, affable fellow teacher, Kenan (Musab Ekici). Attempting to be friendly and approachable with his students, one in particular whom he favors, Samet jeopardizes his career. Flirting and joking with 14-year old Sevim (Ece Bagci) backfires when someone finds Sevim’s love letter to Samet. Humiliated, Sevim confronts Samet and asks for the letter back. Fearful of trouble brewing, Samet mishandles her feelings, and gives a long explanation of how he once loved a teacher, upsetting instead of soothing her when he tells her he ripped up her letter.

Ece Bagci in 'About Dry Grasses' at New York Film Festival 2023 (FLC press)
Ece Bagci in About Dry Grasses at New York Film Festival 2023 (FLC press)

The situation blows up in Samet’s face. Sevim and her friend file complaints of impropriety against Samet and Kenan. Though the complaints go nowhere, Samet’s pride disintegrates. Additionally, his hatred, boredom and disgust with the backward culture of this region intensifies. Ironically, in Istanbul, such teacher-pupil behavior might be even more restrictive. Regardless, Samet needs to self-reflect and self-correct with patience and moderation. Whether this occurs by the film’s conclusion is debatable.

A shift in focus

Instead of moderation, the hurt Samet refocuses his attentions on another teacher, Nuray (Merve Dizdar), debilitated by a politically motivated bomb explosion. Though she prefers the attractive Kenan, Nuray allows Samet to worm his way into her attentions with a lie of omission about a dinner invitation.

In a unique cinematic, thematic moment, just before they become intimate, Ceylan suspends the narrative. Breaking character, Samet opens a door onto the sound stage where Ceylan created the film interiors. This Brechtian moment reminds us that even the intimacy between the two teachers staged by the director’s control intimates an abrupt end with no emotional fulfillment.

A Palme d’Or for Merve Dizdar at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival

Merve Dizdar gives a superb performance as the Kurdish political activist who rebuilds her life after the explosion makes her an amputee. In portraying Nuray’s activist hope that cuts through Samet’s philosophical cynicism, she garnered a Palme d’Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

At the film’s conclusion, Samet’s voiceover summarizes his reflections about his experiences. He discusses his angst and desolation about teaching, the blowup with Sevin and the region’s oppression by using the metaphor of grasses. Buried in the winter, in the summer they stay green only for a moment; the sun burns the moisture and life out of them. Samet must move on, knowing the terror of what will happen to him if he stays.

Though the film needs editing of some of the repetitive dialogue, the shot compositions, still photography and cinematography empower Ceylan’s themes. Additionally, they reflect Samet’s emotional state and make it identifiable to the viewer. Cleverly, Ceylan makes the region its own character in its remoteness, insularity and alienation. This artistic approach makes About Dry Grasses unforgettable.

Tickets are available at the NYFF 2023 website.

About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, playwright, novelist, poet. She owns and manages three well-established blogs: 'The Fat and the Skinny,' 'All Along the NYC Skyline' ( 'A Christian Apologists' Sonnets.' She also manages the newly established 'Carole Di Tosti's Linchpin,' which is devoted to foreign theater reviews and guest reviews. She contributed articles to Technorati (310) on various trending topics from 2011-2013. To Blogcritics she has contributed 583+ reviews, interviews on films and theater predominately. Carole Di Tosti also has reviewed NYBG exhibits and wine events. She guest writes for 'Theater Pizzazz' and has contributed to 'T2Chronicles,' 'NY Theatre Wire' and other online publications. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She professionally free-lanced for TMR and VERVE for 1 1/2 years. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely, Ph.D. Her novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers' will be on sale in January 2021. Her full length plays, 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics or How Maria Caught Her Vibe' are being submitted for representation and production.

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