The Jury in Cannes were obviously feeling that films should be on the slow side last year. Having given the Palme D’Or to Terence Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’, they gave the Grand Jury Prize to this very, very slow, exquisitely shot film from Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Ceylan’s film lives almost entirely in real time. So we start with three clapped out police cars driving through the Anatolian night stopping from time to time to check for the burial place of a murder victim. Among the men, in the cars are the local doctor, police commissar, the local prosecutor, and the two murder suspects. The course of the film follows the procedures around that murder, but the film cannot be called a ‘police procedural’ under any circumstances. The film suggests few mysteries around the murder.
What the film does explore in particular detail are the ways in which males interact with males. The police commissar Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan) bullies and attacks the murder suspect Kenan (Firat Tanis) in a way that stereotypes both men. That is, until he finds out that Kenan thinks he is the father of the victim’s ‘son’. And then it is Kenan’s honour that Naci finds respect for. The Prosecutor, Nusret (Taner Birsel) regales the car with a story of a woman’s death immediately after the birth of her child. Later on that story rebounds on Nusret. The Doctor Cemal, Muhammet Uzuner, is haunted by his lost marriage. For all these men purchase on the world is tenuous and fragile.
That fragility is perfectly illustrated than when they repair to the house of a village major and are served tea by his exquisitely beautiful daughter. Her fragility and their awareness of the fleeting nature of that moment of grace (in every sense), reduces them to emotional silence. So the absence of women in these men’s lives is a fundamental factor in their nature. This is amusingly emphasized early in the film with a mobile phone conversation between Commissar Naci and his wife. And elsewhere the film is almost absurdly funny, as in the moment when Prosecutor Nusret compares first the murder victim and then himself to Clark Gable.
This film has, obviously, been garlanded with prizes and wonderful reviews. It is a very beautiful film, and Ceylan forensically examines notions Turkish manhood and masculinity, in ways which are genuinely engrossing. It is a powerful and absorbing film, but boy it is slow!!!