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“About Dry Grasses” Movie Review, Live Streaming & Download

About Dry Grasses 2024 (via Primetweets)

Everybody lies. Whether with malice, for self-preservation, or to spare another’s heart, fabrications lubricate or erode social interactions. But it’s in the liminal space between the idea of absolute certainty — an unattainable utopia — and the most outlandish of falsehoods where what matters most resides: how an event makes us feel overpowers the importance of facts themselves. Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan spends his latest engrossingly verbose, three-hour opus, “About Dry Grasses,” warning us that every truth is partial as it’s tinged with the teller’s perspective. Even our own conclusions on the state of the world and our role in it must be scrutinized, since neither hope nor despair should be fully believed. 

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Back from break amid the snowy vastness of the improvised, rural town of Incesu in east Turkey, art teacher Samet (Deniz Celiloglu) dreads that he must spend more time in this “hellhole,” as he often describes it. The government assigned him to this region for the last four years, but he wishes to work in a metropolis like Istanbul. Within the first few minutes, Ceylan confirms that each line of dialogue or scene in this stimulating masterpiece has thematic relevance. As educators at the small school gather, their seemingly innocuous chitchat becomes a discussion about a vendor who proclaims his perfumes are legitimate but confesses the tracksuits in his inventory are indeed fake. To ease his patrons, Samet thinks, the seller offers a small nugget of honesty to hide the bigger scam: it’s all illicit. 

Around town, Samet’s status as a teacher, especially one from an urban area, has earned him the respect of both soldiers in line with the regime and local dissidents. That middle ground between the oppressors and the idealists is where this misanthrope teacher feels most comfortable. Self-absorbed, Samet upholds a cowardly “apolitical” stance. 

His fifth-grade students generally like him, despite his condescending attitude, in particular Sevim (Ece Bagci), a girl Samet deems as smarter than most in his class. But that changes when a random search yields a love letter from her backpack, and Samet claims not to have the note in his possession — a lie Sevim doesn’t believe. The young pupil retaliates to that breakage of trust with another untruthful statement, one that compromises not only Samet’s reputation, but that of his closest friend and roommate Kenan (Musab Ekici). Through the ordeal, Samet knows that giving gifts or showing preferential treatment to certain students is incorrect but won’t admit it, arguing  that his actions were benevolent. 

“What’s the point of friendship without some risk or sacrifice?,” Samet explains when the physical education teacher Tolga (Erdem Senocak) refuses to divulge information about the ongoing situations with Sevim’s accusations. But for as much as Samet demands that those close to him break the rules as a sign of loyalty, of blind confidence in his innocence, he consistently betrays that supposedly sacred tenet of fraternity if it benefits his narrative. With an ire-inducing smirk that reeks of insincerity, Celiloglu convincingly portrays Samet as an off-putting individual, not amoral or devoid of empathy, but arrogant and patronizing towards the uneducated people in this town and their outdated worldviews.  

Yes, Samet lies plenty, but doing the opposite, being brutal honesty, is just as hurtful. 

Enraged about Sevim’s backstabbing, he tells the rowdy class that none of them will amount to much other than growing crops for the wealthy to consume. Statistically that’s likely a harsh reality, but part of his duty as a teacher is to lie and instill the belief that they can surmount those circumstances in hopes that a handful of them are inspired enough to defy the odds. Instead, he sounds like a dictator trying to silence the opposition, speaking of his enemies, in this case elementary school girls, as people deserving of collective scorn. 

Ceylan transforms quotidian encounters into conversational battlefields that unfurl the characters’ most ingrained apprehensions or unflattering instincts. This is distinctly true in scenes with Semat and Kenan’s new left-wing friend Nuray (Merve Dizdar), a former military woman turned teacher who lost her right leg in an explosion. The steadily paced, richly intellectual, and absorbingly acted scenes make the expansive running time irrelevant. 

When Nuray shares that she’s purchased a car, Kenan reacts with genuine excitement. We hear him rejoice, and cut to her reacting in delight. The next shot shows Samet looking at Kenan with disgust over his earnestness, a wordless moment of villainy. When he finally speaks, his companions don’t respond, they are staring intently at each other. Samet recognizes a connection is brewing. He is jealous, not because of any interest in dating her, but of the notion that others can experience such joy. Samet also reviles knowing that Nuray finds Kenan, raised in this land and who he judges as uncultured, more interesting than him. 

Over dinner on a different night, the most riveting ideological duel in the film takes place — Ceylan’s quietly explosive dialogue rouses the mind. Nuray sees through Samet’s poisonous politeness, used to disguise his staunch selfishness. The extraordinarily restrained Dizdar, who won the Best Actress award at Cannes for this turn, gives voice to her galvanizing lines advocating for community, while he defends his inaction as the sensible choice. “Shall I tell the truth or try to make you happy?,” Samet responds to her inquiries about the type of person he thinks he is. But though motives differ, Nuray sins of concealment too when she asks him to not speak of their one-on-one evening as not to hurt Kenan.  

Expounding on his thesis about distrust, Ceylan constantly reminds us that art doesn’t trade in veracity since it’s a representation of a flawed person’s point of view and not the whole picture. There are the photographs that Samet takes of the town’s humble residents, which give way to montages of tableaux vivants. These static images can only capture what’s visible in an instant, not the history of bad deeds and acts of kindness that each person encompasses. Later, upon seeing Nuray’s paintings of her family, sounds of people laughing, speaking, existing, emerge as if to note that there are entire lives lived outside the confines of what her brush can convey and that these artistic interpretations of her loved ones are symbolic artifacts showing only how she sees them, not how they truly are. Even the ruins left behind by ancient civilizations only reveal glimpses of who they were. 

Near its conclusion, Ceylan stuns with a moment where he briefly breaks the spell of fiction to reaffirm once more the film’s position that images — on canvases or in the metaphorical sense of what we project ourselves to be in the eyes of others — only contain a minuscule fraction of truth. Furthermore, he suggests that among all the artforms, cinema is perhaps the craftiest of deceivers. We know what’s on screen to be the product of artifice and manipulation but suppress disbelief to trust movies emotionally—the good ones at least. 

But there’s virtue in taking a side and believing in imperfect ideals, Ceylan suggests. The alternative, what has corroded Samet’s soul, means to accept nothing can change as the safest truth. For better or worse, it’s those who follow their most ardent delusions who can alter the course of what’s been established as immutable. That’s perhaps why Samet gravitates so fervently to Sevim and in Nuray, because they seem able to transcend the experiences that could have made them bitter, while he wallows in his most unflattering impulses. He fears harboring hope, because disappointment might be on the other side. 

In reality, nothing is as glorious or as terrible as it seems, not even the landscape itself. 

The hardship of enduring the coldest months almost buries our memories of better days. 

About Dry Grasses movie poster

About Dry Grasses (2024)

197 minutes

Cast

Deniz Celiloğluas Samet

Merve Dizdaras Nuray

Musab Ekicias Kenan

Ece Bağcıas Sevim

Erdem Şenocakas Tolga

Yüksel Aksuas Vahit

Münir Can Cindorukas Feyyaz

Onur Berk Arslanoğluas Principal Bekir

Yıldırım Gücükas Director of Education

Director

  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Writer

  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan
  • Ebru Ceylan
  • Akın Aksu

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