‘The Pigeon’

A gentle, nuanced film from first time director Banu Sivaci, The Pigeon is a bittersweet tale of choice and life in the margins as Yusuf struggles to relate to the world outside the rooftop terrace of his family home.

Set in Adana in southern Turkey, The Pigeon sees Yusuf (Kemal Burak Alper – You Know Him, TV’s Ariza) relate only to his pigeons, a passion inherited from his now-deceased grandfather. It’s something not understood by his older brother, who forces Yusuf into menial work to financially contribute to the household. But the more time spent away from the rooftops has its consequences.

Unassuming, with the boy’s affinity to his birds beautifully captured, The Pigeon is an understated parable of our time as Yusuf finds himself in a world he ultimately does not understand wanting to return to a world not understood by others.

Rating: 60%

‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’

An immersive slow burn, a group of law enforcers drive through the night in rural Turkey looking for the burial place of a murder victim. It’s an epic procedural narrative of character insight as frustrations rise to the surface.

A film of observations, auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Winter Sleep, The Wild Pear Tree) allows his tale to unfold at a gentle, real time pace with the doctor (Muhammet Uzuner – Yesilçam, Unseen) a voyeur on proceedings. A late night meal at a local mayor’s compound, aimless driving directed by the accused who has little memory of the landscape, an increasingly angry police commissioner: it’s a world of uncertainties and insecurities as dawn slowly breaks.

Rating: 64%


Quiet and unassuming, Turkish director Özcan Alper’s (Future Lasts Forever, Memories of the Wind) directorial debut evokes a deeply-ingrained melancholia within the dank autumnal landscape of the Black Sea eastern hinterlands.

On his release after 10 years as a political prisoner, Yusuf (Onur Saylak – Daha), in poor health, returns to the family home where his mother lives alone in the beautiful but isolated landscapes inland from the Black Sea. Unable to find any true sense of belonging, travelling between home and the nearest town, a relationship develops between Yusuf and Eka, a Georgian sex worker (Megi Kobaladze).

Two lost, lonely souls searching – for understanding, for knowledge, for personal identity. Sense of home – the land, the sea, the people – is explored in its natural and unassuming beauty in a lament where so little happens but so much takes place.

Rating: 68%

‘The Small Town’

The debut feature of Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Winter Sleep), The Small Town is a moment, a time, a place of village life as seen through the eyes of two children. Realism prevails as the seasons pass with children huddled round the classroom heater, socks dripping from melting snow or listening to stories repetitively told by the grandfather sitting round the autumnal outdoor fire, fresh corn smoking in the flames.

Shot in grainy black and white and with predominantly non-professional actors (many from Ceylan’s own extended family), it’s a stylised, slow yet beautiful meander, an ode to rural life. Little happens – The Small Town is a contemplation, a meditation.

Rating: 63%

Best of Year (2016) -Film

i-daniel-blakeAs mentioned in an earlier post, 2016 was not awash, in my opinion, with great films. Lots of good ones, a few that didn’t quite live up to expectations or some abject failures. Hence my top 10 for the year is noticeable by its lack of US ‘studio’ films and dominated by European ‘sensibility’. There’s little room for last year’s big critical darlings – only Spotlight making the cut from the Oscar nominated best films. No The Revenant or The Big Short (the latter sitting just outside the top 10).

To be honest, I was a little surprised by the way my list panned out – but it’s all based on my own percentage rating and rings true. ‘Story’ dominated – whilst I’m not averse to action and adventure, it’s the narrative that is all-important. So the indie productions are well-represented.

My top 10 films for the 2016:

10=: Captain Fantastic (Canada) w/Viggo Mortensen
Mr Gaga (Israeli documentary) dir/Tomer Heymann
7=:    The Hateful 8 (US) w/Samuel L. Jackson
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (New Zealand) w/Sam Neill
The Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
5=:    Spotlight (US) w/Michael Keaton
Hell or High Water (US) w/Chris Pine
4:      Indignation (US) w/Logan Lerman
3:      Nocturnal Animals (US) w/Amy Adams
2:      Mustang (Turkey/France)
1:      I, Daniel Blake (UK) dir/Ken Loach

Quiet, social commentary films are there in numbers – the devasting Ken Loach Cannes Palme d’Or winner, I Daniel Blake sitting atop the list as my favourite film of the year. That was a little unexpected knowing La La Land was my last film of 2016. Going by critical response, I anticipated the Damien Chazelle homage to Hollywood musicals of the 50s to be the film of the year. It was good – but not that good, as indicated by its failure to feature in my top 10.

Both Mustang and The Embrace of the Serpent were nominated for last year’s best foreign language film – but they lost out to the Hungarian Holocaust drama, Son of Saul. You can see my opinion (Son of Saul came in around 15th for the year on my selection). The other foreign language film on the list, Mr Gaga, is the superb documentary focussing on Israeli contemporary dance choreographer, Ohad Naharin.

Both Hell or High Water and Nocturnal Animals share the presence of a Texan sheriff as crucial to the storyline – the underrated Michael Shannon in Tom Ford’s elegant suspense feature and the show-stealing Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water.

Disappointing not to see a local Australian film in the list but the Antipodes is represented by the most successful New Zealand film ever made – the irrepressible Hunt for the Wilderpeople. And its back-to-nature setting is mirrored by the alternative upbringing of the (large) Cash family in the Washington State wilderness of Captain Fantastic.


large_icRk3eeUXuPTKFvJ4fbXhF7guAe-1A quietly powerful story of the sexual and social awakening of five young sisters in  conservative regional Turkey. Parented by their grandmother and uncle, the five are contained within the home as neighbours complain about the girls’ behaviour.

Described as the Turkish The Virgin Suicides, debut director Deniz Gamze Erguven draws out sensitive performances as the joy of (fully clothed) playfulness on the beach is replaced by strict control and bars on all the windows of their home.

A French-Turkish co-production, Mustang was shortlisted for the 2016 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (lost out to Son of Saul).

Rating: 83%

‘Winter Sleep’

1013080_nl_winter_sleep_1404986274942Ouch. My bum is still numb – 190 minutes of a beautifully unfolding drama set in stunningly weird landscape of Cappadocia in central Turkey during the winter months.

Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is renowned for building slowly (his last, the award-winning crime drama Once Upon a Time in Anatolia fairly zipped along at 157 minutes!) – so don’t expect fireworks. Winter Sleep is almost theatrical in structure – six or seven scenes over the course of the film where characters (mainly in twos and threes) converse and discuss issues of concern. It’s a serious film with little light relief (so no shame in admitting to a little semi-dozing here and there). But stick with it – resolve is rewarded.

Winter Sleep collected the Palme D’Or at Cannes earlier this year and is the running for Best Foreign Language Oscar.

Rating: 77%