Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Film Review #65: Iraq in Fragments *** 2006 *** Director: James Longley *** The afternoon two weeks ago that I spoke with James Longley by phone, he was feeling pretty good. The Seattle-based Longley was in New York City, bunking in with his fellow filmmaker Andrew Berends for the theatrical premiere that night of his new documentary, Iraq in Fragments. It’s a film I hope will come to Central New York. Longley was going to do a Q & A after the 8 o’clock screening at Film Forum and so far opening reviews were sweet. The Village Voice’s Nathan Lee said this film would still be there when the war itself was long gone. Lee offered his own lyrical riff on Longley’s “rhyming” circle images – a boy’s eye echoed in the rotary blades of ubiquitous hovering choppers, a ceiling fan, sewing machine wheel, bullet holes and the burning auto tire of the film’s final moments. *** Longley filmed Iraq in Fragments between February 2003 and April 2005, first in Baghdad among the Sunnis, then in Naseriyah and Najaf among the Shiites during the uprising that coincided with the US siege of Falluja and the Abu Ghraib torture revelations, finally in the northern Kurdish settlement of Koretan near the city of Erbil, an area of farmers and brick-makers. *** Longley had been in Iraq earlier but unable to get permits to film in the last days of Saddam’s regime. So he left, paced out the US invasion from across the border, returning when it was possible to work unfettered. During this period Andrew Berends also shot a documentary set among the Shiites called The Blood of My Brother. Longley handed his cell phone to his old friend and Berends told me that they go way back; in college together, Longley was the cinematographer on Berends’ first student film. In Iraq each crossed paths and hung out with four still photographers who approached their work in the same guerilla fashion. Later, the Unembedded Project emerged – first a website and joint gallery exhibit among the six, then a book by the four photographers. *** Although Longley’s adult work has been about the moving image, he says his aesthetic is grounded in the photography and painting of his student days, so he is at home with the stillness of composed images and it shows. Time after time as I watched Iraq in Fragments I wanted to reach up and take some frame out of the film’s flow and hold it still. I think Nathan Lee was surrendering to the same sheer power of Longley’s arresting, lovely images too – like the little girl in the pink dress and the Kurdish boys throwing snowballs in the last third of the film that appear like sudden oases after a long desert march. *** Iraq in Fragments is made of three parts, each a resonant story of sons in a society both used to and suddenly free of a dictator who for decades cast himself as a fatherly disciplinarian. You see how confusing that might be on an intimate scale immediately. Like his 2001 film, Gaza Strip, this one begins with a boy named Mohammad. Eleven-year-old Mohammed Haithem of Baghdad has lost his policeman father, who spoke against Saddam and disappeared. He lives with his grandmother and works in a sweltering, grimy mechanic’s shop for a man whom he swears loves him like a father. Soon Mohammed is insisting on this through his own tears, repeatedly slapped and berated by the boss who growls that Saddam would never have allowed the chaos that surrounds them. Mohammed’s boss does not mind that Longley films him behaving this way. Just as you’re thinking this little boy should be in school, that fantasy is slapped away with unnerving, brutal swiftness by a trip to the regimented classroom that Mohammed sometimes attends at his boss’ behest – where he feels only stupid among the younger boys. Mohammed’s great revolt and liberation consists of leaving both the garage and the school behind by escaping to a distant uncle’s sweatshop. *** Moving south to the Shiite stronghold of Moqtada al-Sadr, himself a fortunate son with inherited power, Longley switches to a whip-lash cinematic style that manages to re-create the fresh sense of assault and visual overdrive first felt years ago with Tarantino’s Natural Born Killers. This matches the frenzy of the religious self-flagellation with whips and chains that Saddam forbade, in which masses of young Shiite men now freely indulge, the clamoring rallies, and a zealous arrest and beating of a suspected alcohol seller at a local market. For this section Longley followed Sheik Aws al Kafaji, a cooperative and thoughtful young cleric in charge of Sadr’s office in Naseriyah, Iraq’s fourth largest city. This section also features repeated, haunting glimpses of a sort of ghost boy, unidentified and peeking out from the chaos – as if there were no time or space for his story. *** This middle part of the film is strenuous and frightening, raising the obvious question of how one gets access. Longley says the months he spent establishing relationships is key; Andrew Berends elaborated, “Some of these boundaries we just imagine. After a while I realized, why wouldn’t they want us there? It’s easier than filming in New York City, where people are more self-conscious, aware of the camera, more private. People in Iraq are extremely hospitable and open.” *** This is easier to see when Longley goes north for the section he titles Kurdish Spring, to vast plains, skylines and fields. The billowing smoke from the ovens of the region’s brick-makers merges with images of Saddam’s burning of Kurdish villages, even as the sons of neighboring farmers walk hand in hand from school, tend their sheep and try to put into words how hard their fathers have worked. Across Iraq, old men play board games and criticize the politicians, and little boys carefully wash their feet from pumps and spigots, trying to do much with little. Among the Kurds Longley finds the space to contemplate those common national images, despite the commonly voiced belief that Iraq will inevitably pull apart. *** Longley himself says, “The best way to see it is in a theater. None of us wants our films seen on those little screens by people busy doing something else.” Opening at Manhattan’s Film Forum guarantees respect and savvy audiences. Besides that, Iraq in Fragments has opened this month in seven other major US cities after nearly 60 festival screenings. It hit three Best awards right off the bat at Sundance, and has more theaters slated for January. This is a substantial release for a documentary, so Iraq in Fragments will surely get a DVD issue. But you might say that Iraq in Fragments comes most into its essential movie-ness in its final Kurdish section, which is why I hope this film comes to Central New York. ***** This review was written for broadcast on Women's Voices Radio, 88.3 FM WAER Syracuse, on the Thanksgiving show, 11/23/06.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Film Review #64: Daughters of the Dust
1992 *** Director: Julie Dash *** “We all have our Julie Dash moments,” says filmmaker Yvonne Welbon, adding, “I worked mine into a film about living on Taiwan.” *** Welbon was in upstate New York last month for a screening of her own 2003 documentary about African American women filmmakers, Sisters in Cinema, at the Community Folk Art Center’s three-day film festival in Syracuse. It’s impossible, she said, to over-estimate the importance to other black women filmmakers of Dash’s tale of the Gullah, Daughters of the Dust. Its lavish visual feast, its climbing tendrils of narrative, and its attention to place that’s at once swooning and meticulous, marked a paradigm leap. *** Daughters of the Dust opened in January 1992 with no marketing to speak of and only a few mainstream reviews, but word of mouth kept it in theaters for six months. You would think this would lead to more movies, right? Dash herself appears in Sisters in Cinema, at one point describing her quest to get backing for new film projects in the 90’s. Remember this was the era when indie filmmaking opportunities for men – black and white alike – cracked wide open. “They’ll take you to lunch,” Dash says, “but they don’t follow through.” *** “Our Ellis Island” is what Dash has called the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. Initial landing points for the slave trade, they were also places of protective isolation for Africans who remained there, called Gullah. Besides working the rice and indigo plantations, the Gullah preserved West African cuisine, their unique Geechee tongue and a blend of Islam alongside African deities. The legend of Ibo Landing, in which one shipment of new slaves sized up the beach, turned around and in their chains walked en masse back into the Atlantic, is central to Daughters in the Dust, where it’s told twice. Dash’s film puts Ibo Landing on St. Helena. Even today, numerous Gullah communities in the islands claim to be the “real” site of Ibo Landing. Its legend resonates in every journey by boat this movie’s characters undertake. *** Daughters of the Dust unwraps the Peazant family history through the eyes, memories and visions of its women over two days in August 1902. The family gathers once more before most will migrate north via the mainland. This is another epochal crossing of the water, so a “modern” photographer, Mr. Sneed from Philadelphia, is there to record their last sea-side feast and matriarch Nana’s blessing. Nana and her unborn great-great-granddaughter recall this final reunion in voice-overs that also fill in past events and future developments in wry asides. Family members squabble over loyalties, secrets, prosperity’s lure in a new century, whether old ways are a “hoodoo mess,” and Yellow Mary, who’s come home with her pretty lover Trula. *** Dash used these squabbles and Mr. Sneed’s group poses in the dunes by the ocean as devices to sum up entire debates and anguished contradictions about what that migrating generation faced. We first see Yellow Mary arriving by water, languidly resting like some Cleopatra on her barge, but her own progress in the wider world has been deeply ambivalent, with a heavy price for her restless freedom. *** “All that yellow wasted,” spits one Baptist cousin, seeing no chances of light-skinned children from wayward Yellow Mary. It is hard to discern whether this contingent of cousins disapproves most of Yellow Mary’s own departure from the island years before, or her career as a high-end prostitute, or her girl friend. Only an outburst from the young pregnant wife Eula, who defends Yellow Mary as “one of us,” forces some reconciliation. And Eula’s Unborn Child, whom Nana calls into being to save the family, materializes as a ten-year-old with an indigo hair ribbon pouring through a fancy mail-order catalog. She observes wryly, “I was on a spiritual mission but I got distracted.” *** More than likely, you’ve seen Dash’s work since – on MTV, Encore and HBO. She works steadily, making about a film a year for hire on the small screen. But she’s never made another full-length feature of her own for theatrical release. Dash, whose father was Gullah, first conceived of Daughters of the Dust about 1975. In 1988 she got enough funding for a 28-day location shoot. Then lack of money delayed post-production another couple years. Daughters of the Dust was the first full-length indie feature by a black woman in wide release in the US. There wasn’t a DVD of Daughters of the Dust until Kino’s 2000 issue, which has excellent extras but disappointing sound quality. And Netflicks has only added this title to their inventory in the past year. *** But Dash’s persistence has continued to feed others. Yvonne Welbon is making a new feature film. Kasie Lemmons – who made Eve’s Bayou and Caveman’s Valentine – is shooting a new film in Toronto. And Nigerian-British filmmaker Ngozi Onwaruh, who gave us her own take on Ibo Landing’s legend in Welcome II The Terrordome, she’s making another movie too. ***** This review was written for broadcast on Women's Voices Radio on Thankgiving, 11/23/06. An abbreviated form appears in's staff feature, Out of Sight II: Twenty Films You Haven't Seen But Should on 11/20/06.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Film Review #63: The Giant Buddhas *** 2005 *** Director: Christian Frei *** What about Afghanistan? Five years ago this week, the Taliban fell and US troops entered Kabul. Since then, Iraq has gobbled up our money and attention, and engulfed the documentary market. Even doc superstar Errol Morris has just announced he'll start shooting a film about Abu Ghraib prison. *** Two years ago PBS broadcast the remarkable film, Afghanistan Unveiled, made by some young Afghani women – their country's first female journalists – NGO-funded, trained and mentored by Western journalists. Traveling about their own nation for the first time, they visited Bamiyan, home of the ancient cave-dwelling Hazaras, who traditionally guarded the giant Buddha statues carved into Bamiyan's cliffs 1500 years ago. The legacy of their women warriors on horse-back shows up even today. In all Afghanistan, only Bamiyan province has a woman governor. The Taliban were vicious with the Hazaras, whom they slaughtered instead of merely driving out when they took power. *** The omission of the Hazaras’ backstory is nearly the only flaw in Christian Frei's panoramic film The Giant Buddhas, which is about the statues' destruction six months before 9/11. It had its US debut at this year's Sundance but never picked up a theatrical run. I discovered it while trolling *** Frei is a Swiss filmmaker who's developing a body of work that explores how politics and media intersect, from Cuban radio stations to ancient religious fine art. His 2001 film, War Photographer, profiles photojournalist James Nachtwey. It’s one of my personal top ten. *** Frei does his own sound and travels light with just cinematographer Peter Indergand. They began this film in March 2003, two weeks before the US invasion of Iraq, and also filmed in Europe, Toronto, and China, retracing some steps of a young Chinese Buddhist monk, Xuanzang, who passed through Bamiyan in 632 AD. Xuanzang's diaries are meticulously accurate about other ancient sites, so his reports about the gilt statues with ruby eyes have caught modern attention. UNESCO says the looting of Afghani antiquities is actually more lucrative than poppies. *** Frei constructs his narrative as a series of letters to Afghan-Canadian journalist Nelofer Pazira, herself the subject of the 2001 film, Kandahar. Here she reflects on her father's pilgrimage as a young man to Bamiyan as she pours over his scrapbooks and eventually travels from Toronto herself to gaze at the empty niches. After their globe-spanning correspondance, it is one of the film's most moving moments when she moves within sight of the Bamiyan cliffs and the empty niches within Frei's camera frame.*** At one point, Frei quotes an Iranian filmmaker, who says the Bamiyan Buddhas "crumbled to pieces out of shame for the West's lack of understanding.” And the film's opening is immediately sobering and embarrassing, with 19th century engravings of the statues, and words from the poets Lord Byron and Goethe. How should we take the legacy of these Romantics whose pursuit of foreign exoticism led Goethe to call the giant Buddhas "revolting beasts"? *** Bamiyan has been a crossroads for 2000 years, a convergence of the East’s regard and the West’s underestimation, a gateway of Silk Road trade and a major monastic center. Yet fanaticism wrought the following in the worst winter in 30 years, when the UN increased its sanctions on the isolated Taliban regime. Defiantly, Mullah Omar ordered the destruction of all non-Islamic idols in the country. *** At Bamiyan even local Taliban at first resisted. Then a truck convoy crossed the mountains - many Taliban froze to death on the way - and it took about two weeks to bring the Buddhas down. When grenades, artillery shells and land-mines failed, and they ran out of TNT, Pakistani and Saudi engineers came to finish the job. Local Hazara Sayyed Mirza says contemptuously that the Taliban couldn't blow up anything on their own. *** One of Frei’s coups is an interview with Al Jazeera's star reporter Taysir Alony and he uses some of Alony's footage of the explosions – clearly shot with great secrecy and anxiety – billowing across the valley's floor. Alony ponders on-screen his own quest for the Western-style big scoop and the contradictions which arose within him as he watched this murder unfold. *** We also see Afghanistan’s former chief archeologist, Zémaryalai Tarzi, who wanted to excavate Bamiyan in 1978 before the Soviet invasion. Tarzi believed Xuenzang's accounts of the 300 meters-long reclining Buddha that Hazara farmers still tell their children sleeps beneath their fields. Tarzi has begun now, a little each summer. *** UNESCO, which raised the alarm in the first place, funds the salvage and restoration effort, with the blessings of the country's elderly, respected former king. Frei's film is remarkably current about this elaborate high-tech project and its space-age options - 3-D computer models, night-time holograms bathed with flood-lights, and rock chunks exactly aligned by their mineral deposits. It could flow almost seamlessly into Renee Montagne’s NPR report later this month. *** Yes, what about Afghanistan? NPR has used this 5th anniversary of the Taliban's fall to ask that question. Instead of merely recoiling from Iraq let us re-think that question. This film is one good starting point. *** This review was broadcast on Women's Voices Radio, 88.3 FM WAER Syracuse, on 11/16/2006.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Film Review #62: Volver **** 2006 *** Director: Pedro Almodóvar *** Cast: Pénelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Yohana Cobo, Blanca Portilla, Chus Lampreave *** If ever a movie were widely heralded from a long way off, that would be Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver. Released last March in Spain, by September this film’s international din began to achieve seismic proportions. At Cannes the inspired festival judges awarded Best Screenplay to Almodóvar and then simply bestowed Best Actress collectively on the film’s ensemble of women’s remarkable performances. Later that month, 350 film critics from 60 countries voted Volver the Fipresci Grand Prix for year’s best film. State-side, September also saw the cinematic version of Paul Revere’s ride in Viva Pedro!, the ambitious theatrical re-launch of eight previous films in brand new prints, amounting to a traveling Almodóvar mini-fest. Viva Pedro! would let us bone up on his body of work and insure the best possible reception – after a final warning flash on the horizon at New York’s Film Festival last month – for Volver’s bi-coastal theatrical opening last week, with full nation-wide roll-out for the winter holidays. *** After all that, how ironic that Volver is Almodóvar’s most immediately accessible, sweetly transparent and beguilingly down to earth film yet – and the one most possible to watch for itself alone. From the opening scene, in which we begin to meet Volver’s women, energetically tending family graves, including their own, to a decidedly cheerful tune, there is a sense of delicious conspiracy. It’s as though Almodóvar has been granted entrance to the world of women’s secrets and in turn somehow stands aside, allowing his women to reveal themselves on-screen and passing those secrets on to us. *** His own notes about Volver confirm that this is true in concrete and metaphoric sense alike. The film’s title is often translated literally as the verb “to return,” but besides having chosen a word that slides easily into an earthy pun for English-speakers, Almodóvar himself uses the slightly more colloquial and evocative phrase “coming back.” He reports his sisters acted as advisers about village life in his family’s home region of La Mancha and regarding details of home hair salons, making meals and house-cleaning. He recalls his own childhood’s “happiest memories” as a toddler with his mother at a river’s edge among women doing laundry – and therefore Pénelope Cruz’s Raimunda magnanimously buries her husband on the riverbank where they met as children. In the character of Agustina (Blanca Portilla), the village’s buzz-cut first hippie who grows her own weed and knows Raimunda’s family like her own, he invokes the “solidarity of neighboring women” who most aided his own mother in her later years. In an over-arching way, he says he’s “come back” to women and to maternity itself as the source of his art. *** “Most importantly,” he says, since this is La Mancha, the dead mother comes back too. That would be Irene (Carmen Maura), mother of the sisters Raimunda and Sole (Lola Dueñas), grandmother of Raimunda’s daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo). Quite practically, Irene has come back to help her own frail elderly sister, Tía Paula (Chus Lampreave), with her cooking, though it turns out she also seeks Raimunda’s forgiveness for significant old hurts and omissions. Because this will be the most difficult and wrenching reunion, as well as that most flooded with relief, Raimunda is the last to know Irene is back. Irene reveals herself to the lonelier and mousier of the sisters first, after both assume their elderly aunt’s matter-of-fact statements about Irene’s cooking are some combination of harmless dementia and provincial superstition. A bit wild-haired at first from her journey back to life, Irene then ensconces herself with home hair-dresser Sole, who gives her a cute cut and a tint and puts her to work with customers. She frets about Raimunda’s discovering her, hides in car trunks and under beds, and is an easy, down to earth confidante to her granddaughter, who accepts her existence without fuss. *** This granddaughter has just been through worse. Volver’s few men are notable for their absences, departures and disappearances. There’s the restaurant owner who’s sweet on Raimunda but conveniently leaves town so that she can take over his café herself in a burst of sunny industry (for those who know the old melodrama Mildred Pierce with Joan Crawford and Ann Blythe as another mother and daughter in the restaurant business, Almodóvar’s own comparison of the two films is both witty on several levels and immensely more optimistic). There’s the young filmmaker for whom she does this so she can feed his crew, a bit of manna from the sky just when she’s really broke. There’s Raimunda’s deceased father, about whom more will be revealed as you watch. And there’s her husband Paco, ill-tempered and ill-fated. *** Early in the story, young Paula dispatches her father with a kitchen knife when his beer-fuelled disgruntlement over losing his job turns to lechery. Arriving home to a bloody kitchen, Raimunda instantly takes Paula’s side. This leads to one of those scenes among many that play havoc with simple, one-track response. Several reviewers have cited the moment when Raimunda, her clean-up operation interrupted by a caller at the door, shrugs off the blood smeared on her throat as “women’s troubles.” I still marvel at Raimunda mopping up the floor on her knees with paper towels – shot from above to take in what Almodóvar calls “one of the most spectacular cleavages in world cinema” – and rolling over the body, giving her head a disgusted little shake, and zipping up his fly. This scene sets the stage for Paco’s body’s progress, stashed in a freezer at the bustling, re-opened café and eventually laid to rest by the river in a hole dug by another stalwart female ally, the whore Regina. *** Volver occurs as wonderfully effective tale. In this the narrative style matches the content. The La Mancha villagers accept the presence of returned dead among them as perfectly natural. And the film’s kind of story-telling is what we recall from childhood in which the next thing simply happens in order to move us along to the next good stuff. So the sisters travel between Madrid and remote La Mancha by simply bustling back and forth across a plain full of modern wind-mills – while this inevitably calls up Quixote’s quests there is little tendentiousness about it all. This matter-of-factness is of course what allows Almodóvar to mix tones and genres so effectively – that and his evident large spirit. Good-night Irene, good-night. ***** This review was written for, where it appeared 11/10/06.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Film Review #61: Climates *** Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan *** Cast: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan, Nazan Kesal *** This year we may at last pay better attention to Turkey. In the Middle East’s most secular democracy, the harbinger issue of entry into the European Union is irrevocably linked to arts and culture because of what novelist Elif Shafak has called a backlash by right-wing nationalists. They would prefer Turkey forego the EU, but not for reasons of Islamic fundamentalism. Still largely unreported in the West, Turkey’s artistic Renaissance of the past three decades helped produce Shafak herself as well as this year’s Nobel laureate, novelist Orhan Pamuk. Both are among the roughly 70 Turkish artists, intellectuals and journalists charged under the notorious Article 301 with “insulting Turkish identity” by open reference to the 1915 deportation and massacre of Turkish Armenians as “genocide.” Pamuk’s sentence last year was suspended. Although Shafak’s September 21st trial ended in acquittal in less than two hours, she was the first person prosecuted under Turkey’s criminal code for dialogue uttered by fictional characters (in The Bastard of Istanbul, due out in the US in early 2007). *** But these things can go either way. Turkey’s roiling, complicated cultural moment has also produced filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan. His body of work, already seen abroad as hefty, is remarkable for what he accomplishes while largely eschewing the spoken word. Only his fourth feature, Climates was released theatrically last Friday, having just screened at the New York Film Festival. Like his previous films, Climates won a host of international festival and critics’ awards before arriving in the US. *** Ceylan was a photographer before he took up cinema in 1995 and it shows in his expansive and elegiac landscape use, constant attention to visual composition and ease with long-held shots. His new 80-print photo exhibit, Turkey Cinemascope, debuts in Greece next week along with a retrospective of all his films at the Thessalonica International Film Festival. Ceylan emerges a minimalist in both method and cinematic style. Climates is the first of his films that he did not both shoot and produce himself – besides writing, directing, financing, and much of the editing. He usually casts family members, shot his last feature in his own home (Distant, 2002), and since the 2003 death of his cousin and usual lead, Mehmet Emin Toprak, Ceylan now also acts. *** Climates is nothing if not distilled, with a straightforward narrative in three acts, only hints of its characters’ histories and scant dialogue. Like his first feature Kasaba (The Small Town, 1997), it’s structured around the four seasons. And like his next two features, Clouds of May (1999) and Distant, Climates’ protagonist makes his way in life with a camera. The damp, chilly, snowy Turkish winter especially evokes uncommon isolation and vulnerability in Ceylan’s films as his characters travel ever deeper into disconnection. *** Climates opens in summer as Isa (Ceylan), a middle-aged art history instructor and doctoral candidate, is photographing ruins outside the tourist resort of Kas on Turkey’s southern coast. He quarrels with his deeply unhappy younger partner Bahar (Ebru Ceylan, the filmmaker’s wife), and breaks up with her at the beach. Riding back to Istanbul together on his scooter, they crash after she impulsively covers his eyes with her hands; he roughly threatens to throw her off the road-side cliff into the sea. She leaves him there and walks back to Istanbul herself. *** In the rainy fall capital, Isa spies on Bahar, who works as a TV art director. He returns to campus and chitchat with his office mate about keeping girlfriends in line. He resumes a flirtation with another friend’s girlfriend, Serap (Nazan Kesal). This leads to a single long breath-stopping take in which it’s never quite clear whether the rough sex between Isa and Serap is welcomed by her or not, and which overlaps – just as one dares take a breath in relief – with the staccato sound of a sewing machine’s needle penetrating fabric. It’s his mother, repairing Isa’s ripped trousers the next day. *** As winter descends, Isa follows Bahar east to Agri, where he has heard from Serap she is working on a TV series shoot. Isa’s plane lands in an overwhelming blizzard. He trails Bahar through a town so small that she strolls through the cattle in a street to a tea shop. Despite her chill and wary reception – Bahar’s name means “spring” in Turkish and surely she represents the promise of a portable “climate” in Isa’s life – he persists in his idea that they reunite. In another of Ceylan’s virtuoso single-take scenes, Isa makes his rehearsed speech about how he has changed in a van where he has cornered her at the TV shoot location, as she weeps, pressed against the window, and the crew interrupts to load equipment. But when Bahar asks “just one thing” – whether he has slept with Serap again – his nerve fails him and he lies. Feeling he has failed, Isa climbs to a chilly precipice and photographs the nearby famed Ishakpasa palace ruins. As he had been with Serap after what was, after all, only the more obvious assault, Isa is not prepared for Behar’s reconsideration when she turns up at his hotel the night before he leaves. *** The most obvious comparison of style here is with Antonioni’s post-war films. Ceylan’s aesthetic has a more varied pedigree and his attitude toward his characters is more compassionate – he says Chekhov guides his scriptwriting. His long takes and the visually accumulating feelings of his characters also recall Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-liang, especially Vive L’Amour, and the radical disconnection that occurs with rapid movement to cities in times of financial hardship and uncertain regimes. Ceylan has widely discussed these conditions as they apply to contemporary Turkey and it is more challenging to see his films in this light than as safely derivative. *** Ceylan is also a filmmaker who began his career “loving” close-ups and who has subsequently grown away from them. In the interview following Distant on that film’s DVD, he describes the simple discipline he has instead set for himself and by extension for us, “You should have a good reason for a close-up and for a cut. If not, don’t do it.” Looking away out of discomfort is evidently not one of those good reasons – a form of lying similar to cheap talk. You will not hear ordinary film dialogue the same way again. ***** Climates opened at Film Forum in New York City on October 27th. This review was written for, where it appeared 11/6/2006.