‘About Dry Grasses’ Review

Auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan digs deep for three-hour masterpiece

Though its three-hour runtime at first seems a big ask from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Winter Sleep), About Dry Grasses more than justifies its own existence and ultimately proves downright economical thanks to its razor-sharp plot and dialogue, mesmerizing performances and art direction so gorgeous that every frame practically looks like a masterwork.

Here we join Samet (Deniz Celiloğlu, Miracle in Cell No. 7), an art teacher for an elementary (and maybe middle?) school in a remote Anatolia village who longs for life in the bigger city. Anatolia is awash with too much snow, the likes of which seems to leap to life from a Brugel painting. But beauty is objective, and snow is cold; Istanbul could make Samet happier.

Perhaps because of that, he is overly familiar with his students, particularly the young women; particularly Sevim (Ece Bağcı, who is so excellent for her age—or any age). Thus, when an unsent love letter from Sevim to Samet is found in the former’s bag, all hell breaks loose.

About Dry Grasses joins Anatomy of a Fall in the category of fantastic films from recent memory being all about talking. Similarly to the now Oscar-winning French film, Ceylan’s newest opus never bores; it practically crackles with electricity. Celiloğlu is a terrifying delight as the ostensibly magnanimous teacher, though he’s a little more gathered than Lolita’s Humbert Humbert, at least insofar as how he believes he’s presenting himself to the outside world.

Like the movie’s own take on photography within its fiction, however, the camera picks up on the subtleties of character; the glances or off-putting tones in a teacher’s voice; the ways a young woman might handle a difficult situation when she believes no one is looking. This leaves viewers to dissect Samet’s motivations and behaviors, as well as the emotional fallout, on our own terms. It’s easy to flip-flop or just not know how to feel or what to believe.

Samet chooses to leave his student adrift through distance, but also the thinly-veiled social punishment of coldness. This can be particularly cruel, especially to someone wrapped up in forces beyond her ken. The film thus becomes wildly uncomfortable at times, particularly in the ways in which Samet regards himself versus how others actually regard him; but it also feels a little too real. How truthful are we in our myriad relationships? The mentor/mentee; our coworkers; ourselves? Ceylan’s characters are heartbreakingly human, which means, inherently, deeply flawed. And just because it’s challenging to dig into the specifics of About Dry Grasses doesn’t make it any less riveting. The film opens at the Center for Contemporary Arts on March 15.


+Gripping; emotionally charged; gorgeous

-Long to the point of borderline self-indulgence

About Dry Grasses

Directed by Ceylan

With Celiloğlu and Bağcı

Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 197 min.

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