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The Passenger or the search for identity (FW31)

Kabasa/Clouds of May

After Uzak (2002) and Climates (2006), Nuri Bilge Ceylan has become Turkey’s
leading director, and a distinctive voice in world cinema. His debut, Kasaba, won
the Caligari Film Prize at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival, and his second feature,
Clouds of May, was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 2001 event.
Artificial Eye have sensibly packaged these films together for DVD release: stylistically,
they are totally coherent, their aesthetic instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with
Ceylan’s more recent work. Their narratives are related, too: the film within Clouds of
May, in which Muzaffer, an Istanbul director who returns to his native village to document
local life, draws upon Kasaba’s charmingly simple story of childhood and adult aspirations
and insecurities.
Those famiiar with Uzak will know that Ceylan’s narratives eschew epiphanies, exaggerated
dramatic moments or climactic resolutions, and those demanding such expectations
be fulfilled will find his earlier works frustrating. Ceylan draws upon Bergman, Tarkovsky
and (particularly, it seems) Béla Tarr, making films that feel incredibly slow, but populated
with realistic (indeed, real: Ceylan’s own mother and father play Muzaffer’s parents in
Clouds of May) people leading realistic lives.
With that in mind, these films can be watched on the terms Ceylan demands: the
director diverts the viewer’s focus away from the spectacular towards the magic of the
everyday, for the everyman. Moments of personal development are deftly understated,
particularly for Ceylan’s children. Kasaba contains a particularly touching moment where
a boy interacts with a tortoise, so disappointed at its refusal to leave its shell that he
turns it, helpless, on its back. This moment is paralleled, as are so many moments in
Ceylan’s debut, in Clouds of May, where Muzaffer bonds with his young brother, Ali, as
a tortoise crosses their path.
These films would feel overly theatrical (Clouds of May is dedicated to Anton Chekhov)
if it were not (in part) for the actual intrusion of film in Clouds of May, but primarily
because of Ceylan’s painterly shot composition, which again betrays his cinematic influences.
Standing between European and Asian cultures as his homeland does, Ceylan’s
early works provide an antidote to Anglo-American narrative traditions, and a complex,
beautifully meditative insight into the lives of Turkey’s rural populace.

Gareth Buckell


Kasaba (Small
Town)/Clouds of May
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Turkey 1997/1999, 82
mins/131 mins
Artificial Eye, £24.99