the first turkish film i’ve ever seen—i’m afraid the bar has been set too high. yilmaz güney—a rich turkish man’s orson wells?—co-wrote the script and detailed cinematographic guidelines for yol (which means ‘the road’ in turkish) whilst serving a prison term in 1980 (for shooting and killing a local judge, which he denies). he escaped from prison during production and resurfaced two years later at the cannes film festival to receive the palm d’Or for the telling this week-long epic tale (yeah, thats some next level shit). as a boy genius in his early twenties, he was acting in upwards of twenty films a year and sat king atop the turkish film industry. his career as a director was also that of an activist, pitting himself against the hegemony of the turkish government and paying dearly for that with the release and subsequent censorship of every film. he died at the age of 47 in paris from gastric cancer.
whatever it is that makes a good film great has to include to a certain extent that awesome capacity to transport our attention to a place beyond comprehension. beyond the ticking pace towards resolution and an end goal which nearly four generations of hollywood has conditioned us to demand of the film experience. it requires the surety of vision of a filmmaker so saturated by their own cultural context that they yield very little to the temptation to make gestures and concessions for the sake of the general public. with this film alone i already see intimations of such a filmmaker in güney. french and italian filmmakers of the 50’s and 60’s seem to know this as an instinct, they presupposed the inherent pleasure of the spectator as the context of their exhibition: anything the camera falls on was cast immediately in a clairvoyant glow, there wasn’t such a rush to make everything happen all at once (as is undeniably and perhaps hopelessly the case now). for example, i could almost entirely attribute the underwhelming performance at this year’s oscars of paul thomas anderson’s phantom thread on there not having been sufficiently recent precedent of so subtle a twist in a film that didn't rely on the twist—the general american audience might had to have done a double take, even then might still have missed the subtle reveal.
this film’s multi-storied plot, in the style of certain women (2017) and mystery train (1989), follows the week-long journey of five inmates granted leave from prison; each retraces a path long overgrown through regions controlled in concert by a suspicious paramilitary junta and by a strict and scrupulous patriarchal order. the sparingly distilled dialogue wasn’t relied on to advance the plot, which served very well the film’s narrative style whereby the drama was in the action not in words (i.e. the removal of a rotting tooth, the gruesome terrain of a mountainous landscape in winter…).
ermanno olmi (tree of wooden clogs, 1978), federico fellini (i vitelloni, 1953; la strada, 1953 which also means ‘the road’ in italian), ingmar bergman (every film ever) are on top of a list of directors that take their films from a geographic realm and reality—rather than patching a setting around an eager plot. add güney to that list.
in summa summarum, i give this film a solid 4.3 canada goose jackets out of 5.