Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Semih Kaplanoglu's BAL, Turkey's entry into the Oscar nominations, hits theaters

The majestic forests of Turkey -- who knew?  Sure, we've heard about minarets and the massacre of Armenians, but TrustMovies, for one, certainly had never heard about all this lush greenery?  He knows now, thanks to filmmaker Semih Kaplanoglu and his "Yusuf" Trilogy, of which BAL (Honey) -- which opens this week in New York -- is the final film. And a beautiful, quiet, sad addition to the threesome it is. It is also an immensely educational movie -- from the forest that plays a big part in the riveting opening scene to the schooling of the leading character, who stutters, but without the royal pedigree of our Oscar-wining king and his speech. Bal is also, unfortunately, a rather slow movie.

Of the film's 103 minutes, maybe 13 of these are de trop. The content does not merit the extra time. Yet, if you can forgive Mr. Kaplanoglu (shown at left) for this and simply sit back and watch, marveling at the color and the well-chosen and -played cast, taking in each morsel of information about how certain bee honey is harvested from those tall treetops, how schooling progresses, what home life with mom is all about when dad is away, and the energetic and gorgeously costumed dancing at the yearly festival  -- well, you'll consider your time well spent.

It is not the slowness per se that I object to; that's part 'n parcel of the film and its style. But the amount of event within the framework is too minimal. The beginning, with it quiet tread toward something shocking and vital, leave us and the movie itself suspended in mid-air, until finally we come back to that opening event much later.

As the movie progresses, we get our fill of the very camera-friendly family at the core of the film: Yusuf (played by newcomer Bora Altas, shown above and below), his father Erdal Besikçioglu (shown below, left) and mother Tülin Özen -- and a more cinematic group you'd be hard-pressed to find. They and the life they lead prove finally interesting enough to hold us in their grasp. They also make us wonder what will become of young Yusuf. And for that, you'll need to turn to Süt (Milk) from 2007, that offers Yusuf, now university-aged, and Yumurta (Egg) made in 2008, that shows us Yusuf as an adult.  (You can "Save"  Süt on Netflix -- but not, for whatever reason, Yumurta.)

Meanwhile, Bal -- via Olive Films -- opens this Friday, March 25, in New York City at Village East Cinema.

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