The Dry Herbs is Ceylon's new masterpiece (review)

The Dry Herbs is Ceylon’s new masterpiece (review)

Almost ten years after Winter sleep, the Turkish director returns with a wintry and languid film, a melancholic and bitter masterpiece of cinema.

Update July 12, 2023: A regular at the Cannes Film Festival, where he was already presenting his short film Kozain 1995, Nuri Bilge Ceylon has won numerous prizes there, up to the supreme consecration with the Palme d’Or awarded to Winter Sleepin 2014. This year, the Turkish director seduced the Croisette again with his latest feature film, Dried herbs, rewarded on the list with the Best Actress Award given to actress Merve Dizdar. Favorite of the editorial staff of Première, it is released in cinemas this week. Our review:

Article of May 21, 2023: Everything is white. Out of sight. A bus crosses the screen and stops in the middle of the frame. A man gets out and walks towards the camera. Hardly because the snow covers everything. From the first images, we recognize the cinema of Ceylon – the plastic power, the correct framing, the dialogues that kill and these broken characters… And then, the snow. The truth. It is one of the recurring elements of this gifted formalist and his last film is covered with it. We see the snowflakes falling through the windows, we feel the characters struggle to move forward on the snowy roads or the windshields are shrouded in immaculate down… The staging is not only at the service of the characters, it is also at the service of time: she observes the falling flakes, the graphic power of the snow, its omnipresence and, above all, its revealing power. Because it is she who forces beings to detach themselves from a world to which she confers a deceptive beauty.

Deflagrating portrait

This time, we distinguish Samet (Deniz Celiloglu). This young drawing teacher has just got off the bus and is going to his school, lost deep in Anatolia. Semet will be the hero. He has only one desire: to get his transfer to leave this remote region and join the capital. In the village, he lives with his colleague Kenan (Musab Ekici), a real nice guy, looking for a lover. And then, a little later, will emerge Nuray (fantastic Merve Dizdar), a young woman with severe beauty, whose secret we discover as we go along. There is nothing to do, nothing to see around here. We talk with the local plumber, we laugh in the teacher’s room, we go to fill a jerrycan at the source. An incident with a student and a strange rivalry with Kenan will (vaguely) complicate Samet’s life, but apart from that… Between boredom and frustration, under the snow and in the long Anatolian night, Ceylan sets his boning machine in motion pretenses and disappointments. And draws the deflagrating portrait of this trio. Or rather of Samet. At the heart of the device, we see this young man withering away who keeps repeating: “ What am I doing here ? “.

Subtext: what is a man of the world doing among potato farmers? What can an art teacher teach, transmit, to the sons of peasants? In this place where there is no season, Samet has no future. And the way – as close as possible to his face and in compositions worthy of the greatest classical painters (the scene of dialogue with a neighbor lit by an oil lamp evokes De La Tour) – in which Ceylan captures his nervousness, his shame, his ruminations and his pride, quickly takes by the throat. Gradually, this character who seemed solar at first becomes darker, complex and unsympathetic.

One thinks of the telluric power of the great Russians in front of this melancholy portrait. In Chekhov’s theater and Bergman’s cinema, especially since Ceylan stages acid dialogues, while playing on an infinite range of shots-reverse shots – we can never repeat enough that Ceylan is today at the top of its game , and that he can afford poetic swerves like this poetic “meta” film release. But more than Chekov or Bergman, there is above all Dostoevsky in his way of recounting the infinite torments of Samet, his flashes of anger, his baseness, his arrogance and his ridicule. However, like the Russian writer, Ceylan never condemns his hero. Because we understand his reasons – plunged into a mad tragedy, Samet is lost. ” What am I doing here ? “. Without a course or rudder, his life is like a waking nightmare, with no promise of ever getting out of it. There, when the snow melts, scorched by the sun, the grass immediately becomes dry. It has no chance of turning green…

By Nuri Bilge Ceylan. With Deniz Celiloğlu, Merve Dizdar, Musab Ekici… Duration 3h17; Released July 12, 2023

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