April 26, 2024

Director Notes: About Dry Grasses

Nestled away in wintry East Anatolia, public-school art teacher Samet (Deniz Celiloğlu) yearns to leave the sleepy village for cosmopolitan Istanbul. Further disenchanted when he and Kenan (Musab Ekici), a colleague, come under public scrutiny, Samet fears circumstances will keep him in Anatolia and his dreams of a new life permanently out of reach. A silver lining is a budding relationship with Nuray (Merve Dizdar), a fellow teacher and firebrand who develops connections with both Samet and Kenan, forcing Samet to confront what he can't readily accept. Renowned for his nuanced, visually ravishing imagery, award-winning director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Winter Sleep) capstones the film with one of his greatest sequences, a dazzling meta cinematic climax featuring an entrancing performance from Dizdar, who took home Best Actress at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

“What has driven me to form a narrative through the experiences of an art teacher in the midst of his compulsory service in Turkey’s Eastern Anatolian region was mainly the idea that such a subject could present a rich motley of situations and events that could provide room for discussions on basic concepts that, in our country, continuously confront us as the principal dichotomies, like good versus evil, and individualism versus collectivism.
actors standing and talking in the snow in film Dry Grasses
Through this art teacher, who is under the impression that he is nearing the end of his compulsory service in a remote district in Eastern Anatolia and has been consoling himself for years with dreams of being transferred to Istanbul, we have tried not only to take a look at the differences between the roles of the host and the guest, the inner effects of feelings of alienation, of removal from the center and of existence on the fringes, but also to brush upon and interpret the struggles of the region’s residents and the dynamics of the geographic, ethnic or social fabric around them.
actors sit at a couple across from each other in movie Dry Grasses
Although the possibility to love one another is ever-present, prejudices, putting up walls, past political traumas, and the urge to make those closest to pay for one’s mistakes push wilted souls ever further into isolation. In geographies where there is a despondency in every face, a weariness in every gait, and a bitter note in every voice echoing in the cold, the imprints of ‘fate’ become prominent.
scene from the film Dry Grasses
We wanted to impart the gradual decline of the personal volitions of civil servants and teachers sent at an early age to the East, where they often start their assignments with an idealist vitality, the discrepancies between harangues and reality, how ideals can in time turn into disappointments, the burden of occupying a point in time, as well as the feeling of nothingness impossible to shake, despite the innate dynamism of drifting.
actors sitting at a table in scene from Dry Grasses
As one senses the anguish seated within a land and the nature, one feels the need to re-evaluate the concepts of right, wrong, failure and innocence from scratch. In the setting of a remote region rendered mute by historical imperatives, we have tried to convey the dry and bland flavor of the affairs developed in the course of compulsory services, the immutable insistence of the fate of the teaching profession on only barely getting by, and the relationship between high and pure ideals and the brutal ruthlessness of harsh reality.” -Nuri Bilge Ceylan Get tickets for About Dry Grasses (2023)
people walking around structures in Turkey in film Dry Grasses

Nuri Bilge Ceylan was born in Istanbul on January 26, 1959. In 1976, he started studying chemical engineering at the Istanbul Technical University, in a context of strong student, social, and political unrest. In 1978, he continued with a degree in electrical engineering at the University of the Bosphorus. There he developed a strong interest in photography and joined the university’s photography club. It is also there that he nourishes his taste for visual arts and classical music, thanks to the vast library resources of the faculty. He began taking film classes and attending film club screenings, which reinforced his love of cinema, born years earlier in the darkened halls of the Istanbul Cinematheque.

After graduating in 1985, he travels to London and Kathmandu, and takes the opportunity to reflect on his future. He returned to Turkey to do his military service for 18 months. It is at this time that he decides to dedicate his life to cinema.

After his service, he studied cinema at Mimar Sinan University, while becoming a professional photographer to earn a living. After 2 years, he abandons his university studies to go into practice. He started acting in a short film directed by his friend Mehmet Eryilmaz, while participating in the technical process of making it.

At the end of 1993, he started shooting his first short film, KOZA. The film was screened in Cannes in May 1995 and became the first Turkish short film selected for the Cannes Film Festival.

On his first three feature films, KASABA (1997), CLOUDS OF MAY (1999), and UZAK (2003), Ceylan takes care of several technical jobs himself: image, sound design, editing, writing, directing, producing...

UZAK won the Grand Prix and the Best Actor Award for the two leads at Cannes in 2003, making Ceylan an internationally recognized director. Continuing his festival tour after Cannes, UZAK won no less than 47 awards, including 23 international ones, and thus became the most awarded film in the history of Turkish cinema.

His next films all won awards at Cannes. In 2006, CLIMATES won the FIPRESCI International Critics’ Award, in 2008 THREE MONKEYS won the Best Director Award and in 2011 ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA won the Grand Prix again.

In 2014, his seventh feature film WINTER SLEEP won the Palme d’Or and the FIPRESCI International Press Award.

With THE WILD PEAR TREE, in 2018, he returned to the Official Selection in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival.