Posts Tagged ‘Nuri Bilge Ceylan’

1) IDA (DIR. PAWEL PAWLIKOWSKI, POLAND)

Ida, the Polish nun at the heart of Pawlikoski’s WW2 drama, perfectly encapsulates the lightness and darkness of the film, her beetlebug black eyes framed by a saintly, doll-like complexion. Beautifully played by Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida is told she is a Jewish survivor of the holocaust and must meet her aunt before taking her vows. Shot in austere monochrome, the film is a road movie/coming of age tale, with Ida forced to come to terms with her past and decide on her own future. While a black and white holocaust drama might seem heavy going, Pawlikoski has a lightness of touch which elevates it to something greater than simply a sob story.

2) BOYHOOD (DIR. RICHARD LINKLATER, USA)

rsz_boyhood_momentos_de_una_vida_-__ellar_coltrane_mason_finalLinklater’s much heralded drama follows one boy actor from childhood to adolescence, taking in all the growing pains that come with it. While the film often strays into schmaltz and cliche, it is hard not to be affected by the film and project as a whole. Lead actor Ellar Coltrane may have seemed gawky and awkward as the years passed by, but perhaps that is as accurate a reflection of teenager you can get? Estranged parents Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke provide the acting chops and the pathos of adult instability.

3) STRANGER BY THE LAKE (DIR. ALAIN GUIRAUDIE, FRANCE)

StrangerByTheLake_5_Christophe_Paou_Pi.JPGNo-one does voyeurism quite like the French. By a remote lake in rural France Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) cruises the beach for men in order to sate his desires. His attention is piqued by the athletic Michel (Christophe Paou) and soon his lust for him begins to override his moral compass. How dangerous could Michel really be? Guiraudie’s film is a brooding beast, high on intrigue and psychologically complex. It also has a great sense of place; I can’t think of another film that demonstrates the tranquil joy of lake swimming so much.

4) NYMPHOMANIAC PARTS 1 AND 2 (DIR. LARS VON TRIER, DENMARK)

rsz_1rsz_hero_nymphomaniacvol2-2014-1It is a little sad that Von Trier garners more headlines for his antics than his actual films; Nymphomaniac is another interesting addition to his ouevre. Part of his Depression trilogy this epic double header follows Joe, a young girl hurtling through life with a hard-on, unable to satisfy her desire for human flesh. Ably played by Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Joe’s travails are often bleak and brutal- this is Von Trier in a self destructive mood. The film gains power in its sheer scale and rawness of emotion.

5) WINTER SLEEP (DIR. NURI BILGE CEYLAN, TURKEY)

rsz_1rsz_p02ckcsmIf Once upon a time in Anatolia was the brooding, silent brother in the family, then Winter Sleep is the talkative, narcissistic sibling. Aydin runs a remote hotel in rural Anatolia with his sloth-like sister and bored younger wife, all the while indulging his intellectual delusions with vanity book projects. Ceylan’s latest film is occasionally too verbose and meandering in its 3 hour length, yet it often finds its way to a point of real epiphany. The characters are so complex and fluid that you find yourself dividing your loyalty between each of them from moment to moment.

6) LEVIATHAN (DIR. ANDREY ZVYAGINTSEV, RUSSIA)

rsz_leviathanBased on a true American news story but with great parallels with contemporary Russian society, Leviathan is the tale of a local fisherman forced to give up his land for a pittance when the greedy local mayor comes calling. Zvyagintsev arrived with one of the greatest debuts of the 21st century in The Return, but his latest film sees the director opting for a more literal, moralistic form of storytelling. The characters and themes are set out in a blunt fashion but the sheer conviction of the actors and the anger of the director shines through.

7) ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (DIR. JIM JARMUSCH, USA)

This is a peculiar one. While watching the film, and just after, I was left with mixed feelings about Jarmusch’s latest offering. His re-imagining of the vampire genre had a typically thin story, a penchant for sixth form level philosophy and a somewhat nerdy obsession with guitars and literary figures. There were probably a lot more ‘powerful’ and prescient films being made this year, but this one has stuck. The moody streets of Detroit and the gothic twang of Josef Van Wissem’s score has left a lingering atmosphere, while the central relationship between the evergreen vampires played by  Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston is oddly moving.

8) THE PAST (DIR. ASGHAR FARHADI, FRANCE/IRAN)

Film still from The Past by Asghar FarhadiFarhadi’s twisty family drama follows a family’s disintegration in Paris. Ahmad, the estranged father figure, travels to France to meet his ex-partner Marie and sign their divorce papers. However, he quickly becomes embroiled in family tensions as her new partner Samir is causing friction with her offspring. The film is a treasure chest of lies and misunderstandings, Farhadi creating a meaty drama out of miscommunication. While the film may become too tricksy and melodramatic at points, the quality of the acting and the dialogue makes it a very satisfying watch.

9) FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (DIR. JOHN MALOOF & CHARLIE SISKEL, USA)

rsz_211-628x425This excellent documentary unearthed the fascinating story of Vivien Maier, a New York nanny with a secret life as a master photographer. In the 60’s and 70’s, Maier would go out onto the streets of New York and take fantastic photos of everyday life; children, old pensioners, the rich, the homeless. Remarkably her talents were unknown to her well-to-do employers, and she lived a life of relative anonymity. This sparky film documents the discovery of her photographs to her eventual reappraisal, all the while demonstrating what a singular and complex individual Maier was.

10) HER (DIR. SPIKE JONZE, USA)

rsz_1rsz_her-screen-shotProbably one of the greatest films to reflect the ever blurring lines between online and real life, Jonze crafts an unusual and heartfelt work out of a challenging concept. Theodore (Joaquin Pheonix) is a lonely urbanite from the future who falls in love with his OS computer (seductively voiced by Scarlett Johannson), a completely intuitive, human-like system. The film has a woozy, wistful glow to it and Pheonix is excellent as the repressed lead. Jonze deserves all the plaudits, however, for concocting such a prescient, emotional film out of a far fetched conceit.

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How would we look upon our lives in an ideal world? Would we still revel in nostalgia and pine for childhood experiences, or would we move forward and blossom? These are the questions provoked in the reflective odyssey Home written and directed by former Nuri Bilge Ceylan actor Muzaffer Özdemir.

Home sees middle-aged protagonist Doğan (Kanbolat Gorkem Arslan) travelling through the mountainous countryside of Turkey, trying to find a remedy for his depressed state of mind. The explicit cause of his neurosis is undisclosed, but he is a man ill at ease with life. Doğan decides that seeing his birthplace might sooth his troubles, but as he journeys through the countryside he becomes increasingly disillusioned. The corporate takeover of the landscape, the disappearing of sincere religious figures and the decline of his culture fill him with concern.

However, Doğan finds some solace in documenting preserved locations of natural beauty with his camera. He snaps places remembered from his childhood, which may soon be removed forever. The process of documenting and creating appeases his cynicism momentarily, yet as soon as her remembers his childhood he becomes withdrawn and foetus like.

Though certainly introspective, Home eschews the intensity of a Ceylan film (such as Once Upon A Time In Anatolia.) At 75 minutes it makes for comparatively light viewing, yet it is not light on its thematic considerations. Doğan’s fixations feel as though they come directly from the mind of Özdemir himself. Much like his protagonist, this is a director troubled by the changing and decaying world. It feels as though Özdemir has distilled the changes he has witnessed over almost seven decades to make this debut feature.

In formal terms Home is a tentative work. The camera is framed unobtrusively and natural light illuminates each scene. Özdemir captures nature from the wind in the trees to animals roaming in the wild, yet there are no moments of Tarkovsky-esque awe. However Özdemir returns recurrently to the subtle motif of bells (including cowbells) and cowslip flowers, which serve as a staple icon of natural beauty.

Finally the film determines that man’s attempt to follow God’s creation (ambitiously constructing industry and infrastructure) leads to meddling with nature itself. It is an appropriate assessment for a film such a modestly constructed film and yet there is a sense that Özdemir has the potential to show us more. Perhaps for his next feature he will blossom, like Doğan’s beloved cowslips.

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1) ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (DIR. NURI BILGE CEYLAN, TURKEY)

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While Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s previous offerings left this viewer a little apathetic, his new film adds a new found steeliness to bring to the vivid landscapes and existential angst. Following a troop of detectives and police officers as they seek to find the victim of their recent arrest, the film explores the idea of machismo in a sensitive and penetrating manner. Ceylan paints a portrait of a group of men all stumbling through the darkness, each trying to find a peace of mind in the Anatolian foothills. The serious nature of the crime lends the drama a mournful gravitas, while the landscapes are haunting and beautiful.

2) THE MASTER (DIR. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON, USA)

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When it was announced PTA was making a film based around Scientology, many expected a scathing, incisive assassination of the cult. However, the director has foregone that route for a looser, relationship based drama; Joaquin Pheonix’s vagrant loner pitched off against Phillip Seymour Hoffmann’s dapper, cultured leader. The film is a bit of a curiosity- there is no real character arc to speak of for either characters, just a few minor lessons learned, and the mixture of exotic images and elliptical editing gives it an elusive, distant air. It’s the two central performances which elevate it to a higher level, and Pheonix will surely struggle to top this. His twitchy, desperate portrayal of a man too restless to know what he really desires will linger long after the credits have finished.

3) AMOUR (DIR. MICHAEL HANEKE, FRANCE)

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Michael Haneke is now so sure of his craft that he can almost turn his devastating gaze onto any taboo subject and nail it in one. This time he has chosen to focus on the ageing process and what that does to our basic human values. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play the elderly couple, two ex-musicians, in their Parisian apartment, as they struggle to deal with Riva’s loss of mental and physical capabilities. Haneke pulls no punches in his depiction, and it is not an easy watch, but there are moments of hope and compassion that break through the Austrian auteurs notoriously bleak world view.

4) HOLY MOTORS (DIR. LEOS CARAX, FRANCE)

Maverick director Carax comes back from the wilderness with this anarchic, mind boggling oddity. The film stars his regular conspirator Denis Lavant as a man whose job is to be driven around in a limo to various locations and using different disguises, inhabit a melee of obscure roles, from leprechaun to ninja. There seems to be no obvious reasoning to his exploits, and months after seeing it, I am still befuddled by it, but there are hints of Carax’s masterplan; all of his films have been to some degree been excited by the idea of performance and theatre, so this film has a lineage. But to analyse it too deeply is to miss the cerebral pleasures of the film, from the triumphant accordion band in the church to the beguiling neon ninja.

5) KILLING THEM SOFTLY (DIR. ANDREW DOMINIK, USA)

Australian Andrew Dominik had a lot to live up to after his last effort The Assassination of Jesse James…, but his latest work can hold its own against that masterpiece. Dominik seems to be one of the few directors who can get the best out of Brad Pitt and they strike up their fruitful collaboration again here. Pitt plays a hitman hired to take out two lowlife criminals who have bungled a card game robbery. Killing Them Softly works brilliantly as a piece of genre cinema; there are the lowlifes, the gangsters, the shootouts, the double crossings and a barrel full of tension, but what elevates this from your standard gangster fare is a sense of contemplation, a workmanlike depiction of the trade. Dominik draws shrewd parallels between the US recession and the underworld; the unrelenting desire for money and profit and the fall guys who suffer when it all comes tumbling down.

6) SHAME (DIR. STEVE MCQUEEN, UK/USA)

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Steve McQueen’s follow up to Hunger was a similarly icy, visually striking drama, this time honing in on sex addiction. Michael Fassbender plays a wealthy corporate drone in upscale New York struggling to deal with deep seated intimacy issues, burying himself in pornography and meaningless flings. The arrival of his sister, played by Carey Mulligan, brings his problems to the foreground as they both seek to exorcise their demons. Shame is not a warm, emotional drama, but an unflinching, sterile work that nonetheless brings a difficult issue to the wider public. Fassbender and Mulligan give uncompromising performances as the troubled siblings.

7) TABU (DIR. MIGUEL GOMES, PORTUGAL)

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Alternating between modern day Portugal and an unnamed colonial era African country, this Portuguese arthouse fantasy drama was one of the smaller gems from this year. An elderly Portuguese woman, Aurora, is doted on by her maid and next door neighbour, with hints of her exotic past life gradually emerging. In the second half of the film, we see a young Aurora living with her husband and expecting, on a colonial farm in Africa. A dashing neighbour arrives to break up the monotony of her homelife and soon she has a decision to make. Tabu, named after the FW Murnau silent film, is both a tribute to the silent era and an exploration of place and memory. Gomes injects the film with a sense of childlike wonder and mystery, leaving the viewer enchanted by the travails of the doomed love triangle.

8) LE HAVRE (DIR. AKI KAURISMAKI, FINLAND)

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Sometimes it takes an outsider to really capture a culture, and here deadpan Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki expertly observes both French community and its troubles with immigration. Andre Wilms plays an ageing shoeshiner who takes in a African stowaway who miraculously crosses his path. The film includes Kaurismaki’s customary kitsch mise en scene and dry humour, but the director is reinvigorated by the new locales. There is a genuine sense of local community running through the film, which makes it one of the most upbeat and optimistic of the year.

9) INTO THE ABYSS (DIR.WERNER HERZOG, USA)

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The capital punishment system in the US has often been scrutinised, but this time Werner Herzog brings his inimitable ‘truth’ to the subject. This austere, often harrowing documentary, follows various inmates as they recount their crimes and tell their life stories. Herzog steps back from the camera, allowing the tragedies to unfurl themselves, while families of the victims and the law authorities throw their voices into the ring. The mindlessness of the crimes and the inherent violence in the landscape are the two points of the film that will linger in the mind.

10) RUST AND BONE (JACQUES AUDIARD, FRANCE)

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Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard deliver knockout performances in this character driven drama by Jacques Audiard. Following up his successes in A Beat That My Heart Skipped  and A ProphetAudiard continues his theme of flawed characters with a burning passion; Cotillard is a devoted whale trainer and Schoenaerts a brutal amateur fighter. When their lives are turned upside down, they find solace in their outsider statuses. An offbeat, raw drama.

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What should be expected of men? Oftentimes it may seem appropriate to define men as unsubtle, uncomplicated and single minded beings. Many men like to consider themselves assured, decisive and in possession of the facts; they make every effort to appear this way outwardly. But what if this is self-deception? Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is a nuanced study of the moral uncertainty that lies behind the facade, deep in the hearts of men.

Taking the genre of the police procedural and turning it on its head, Ceylan sidesteps the gung-ho and builds a story around a group of ordinary men dealing with unpleasant and gruelling responsibilities. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia sees police commissioner Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan), doctor Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner) and prosecutor Nusret (Taner Birsel) relentlessly driving through the steppes of Anatolia as Naci attempts to gain insight from Kenan (Firat Tanis), a murder suspect, regarding the whereabouts of a corpse.

Ceylan’s film carries the audience with the men throughout the arduous task. The first act of the film deals primarily with Naci’s responsibilities. He is jaded in his job and wants simply to complete his responsibilities to the case and move on. His is continually troubled by the incommunicative Kenan, who claims to have been drunk when burying the corpse. In addition to his policing responsibilities he has his wife on the phone pushing him to obtain medication for their young son, who has run out of his prescription.

Naci has the doctor Cemal on hand, from whom he will get his son’s prescription, but they must complete their nights work first. Cemal’s responsibilities involve carrying out an autopsy on the corpse. His job can only commence upon actually finding the body. Cemal harbours his own problems as he is a single, childless divorcee. Haunted by what could have been Cemal is a sensitive, thoughtful and sceptical person, in many ways the emotional heart of the film. While conducting the autopsy he discovers something, but chooses not to report it – this little white lie is his attempt to buffer the truth, for the sake of emotional censorship.

Despite seeming outwardly assured, Nusret the prosecutor is perhaps the most inwardly troubled. He exhibits the strongest example of self-deception, but through telling Cemal a story he tries to confront his conflicts. It is also implied that Nusret may have prostate cancer, but this is something the character himself never acknowledges. Fortunately for the audience, Ceylan also allows Nusret some of the most prominent moments of humour, which function to illustrate his capacity to endure reality. One grim scene swiftly becomes hilarious as he admits his resemblance to Clark Gable.

But Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is not a film made for the purposes of entertainment. It is not built to amuse, thrill or delight – it is a meditation. It is a serious film with a genuine interest in the inner lives of men. In spite of its seriousness though this film is still captivating. In part this is due to the remarkable digital cinematography by Gökhan Tiryaki. Tiryaki captures the Anatolian steppes with wide shots reminiscent of Abbas Kiarostami and an eye for nature that evokes Tarkovsky.

Nature is a compelling character in this film, almost taking on a narrative life of its own. At times Ceylan diverts our attention from the physical action of the main characters with a gust of wind or the fall of an apple. One of the most memorable moments sees an apple drop from its tree into a stream. Ceylan’s camera follows the apple as it moves with the flow downstream, giving us the opportunity to experience the natural flow of nature; this contrasts with the monotonous struggle of the crime procedure.

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia takes a sincere look at its band of troubled souls. It portrays their yearning for better things, for innocence and peace despite their masculinity. The most remarkable scene sees the men stop at a small village in the middle of the night, where they are treated to food and a brief rest by the locals. After their meal a beautiful young woman enters the scene carrying a lantern and a tray of drinks – she is practically the only woman in the film. She hands each man a drink and they look up at her, not with desire, but as if stirred by her purity. According to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film there is more to men than meets the eye – be they lawmen, doctors or criminals.

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