Bal (Honey) – ‘poetic film-making’

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Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is much on my mind of late, or rather his brilliant film Once Upon A Time In Anatolia. The contemplative manner of Anatolia reminds me of another Turkish director, Semih Kaplanoglu, and his film Bal (Honey). I saw it last year at the Belfast Film Festival and was impressed with the effectiveness of its slowly paced, carefully composed, and beautifully photographed style. Jonathan Romney in Sight and Sound (August 2011) explains that:-

Kaplanoglu’s film – which won last year’s Golden Bear in Berlin… – is the third part of the so-called ‘Yusuf’ trilogy, which traces the life of its protagonist backwards from adulthood to high school and now [in Bal] to childhood and the traumatic loss of his father.

Like Romney, I’ve not seen the other two films; unlike Romney, I think the film is a little gem. I’m quite a fan of Romney’s criticism, but find myself in more-or-less total disagreement with his review. He says that:-

It is not immediately obvious from a surface description why, for example, Michelangelo Frammartino’s recent Le Quattro Volte is a coherent and innovative piece of work [note: I certainly do agree about his description of the superb Volte] while another rural drama, Semih Kaplanoglu’s Honey (Bal), despite its slow pacing, detachment and ascetically sparse dialogue, feels not merely academic but also rather softcore.

The film’s delicacy and reserve often feel flat and bloodless.

My reaction to the film is entirely different, but I feel my strongest reaction against the review must be reserved for Romney’s final paragraph, which includes:-

Finally … Honey suffers from having a juvenile lead… The boy lacks the naturalness that makes for truly striking screen presence.

The film is so strongly routed in the boy’s point of view that it does stand or fall on his performance: I find it totally convincing and completely natural.

David Jenkins’ review in Time Out is closer to my sense of the film:-

Like countryman and fellow director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Semih Kaplanoglu possesses a keen eye for ravishing pictorial beauty, especially when it comes to locating a quiet majesty in the Turkish lansdscape that somehow evokes and distils a sense of unease. ‘Honey’ is his latest work, a precise and psychologically involving Oedipal drama.

He particularly notes something which struck me in particular when rewatching the film (on DVD):-

Filming in long, meticulously sculpted takes, Kaplanoglu is especially good at emphasising elements within the frame with inventive use of focus and the positioning of the camera.

Peter Bradshaw, reviewing in The Guardian, also eloquently articulates some of my own feelings about Bal:-

[A] contemplative and compassionate movie. It is a film whose unhurried pace must be allowed to grow on you, but once it has, there is something engrossing about the tragedy unfurling slowly and indirectly before our eyes. Some of the images Kaplanoglu finds are superb: a forest, a mountainside, a rippling, pulsing moon reflected in a pool of water. It is poetic film-making.

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