Bes vakit is the kind of film that brings out the best in some reviewers and rather than go through the same points, I’m tempted to point you towards Jonathan Romney in the Independent on Sunday. I’d go along with all of Romney’s points, but perhaps I can add some other ones as well.
At the beginning of the film, I had no expectations about how it would look, but I assumed that it would be similar to the work of Abbas Kiarostami or the Makhmalbafs (given that geographically and culturally they are perhaps the closest other major filmmakers). The first surprise then was to find that the film is a CinemaScope presentation. ‘Scope at 2.35:1 makes a big difference to the representation of landscape – and, importantly here, to the placing of figures in that landscape. The views of mountains, valleys and the distant sea necessarily become ‘panoramic’, stressing width not height, and characters are shown in medium shot or MCU they appear much more constrained than in 1.85:1 or 1.66:1 (the more familiar ratios for the neo-realists). Of course, it helps if the projectionist can get the anamorphic lens working properly – surprisingly, the print at London’s Renoir Cinema seemed out of focus at either side of the frame. Despite this, I enjoyed the views of the area.
There are familiar elements from the Iranian films (though I discovered that the location was on the most north-westerly coast of Turkey overlooking the Hellespont – i.e. closer to Europe than Iran), but I was reminded of a range of other films. The ‘distanced’ feel of some of the village scenes reminded me of Carlos Reygadas and Silent Light (2007), the Mexican film about a Mennonite community and the children in school reminded me of several European films and especially of some Spanish films set in isolated villages. The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) sprang to mind. Bes vakit does not have the strong narrative sense of either of the other films mentioned here, but it does share a sense of ‘other worldliness’. Romney points to the recurring compositions of the children lying seemingly asleep in a variety of locations. I found these quite disturbing and one occasion I thought the character was dead (a boy is lying amongst what looks like the ruins of a house). The use of music (by an Estonian composer) adds to this feeling. It seems very portentous and undercuts any sense of rural calm.
The trailer gives a sense of how the film looks and sounds, though I think it overemphasises the scenes of violence by adults directed at children and suggests that the narrative threads are much clearer than they really are:
Overall, this seems to me an enjoyable and rather beautiful avant-garde film, more like an art installation than a straight narrative movie. I’ve still not quite worked out the meaning of a film which is divided into five sections relating to the prayer times in the village (which are then offered in reverse order, so that the film ends in the morning). There are narratives – mainly associated with themes of growing up, sexual awakening, identity within a family structure etc., but also the simple narratives of daily life, here bound up in ideas of collective responsibility. But the film doesn’t offer any coherent sociological explanation of how the village functions. There appears to be a jointly owned flock of sheep, but it wasn’t clear how the families made their livings beyond animal husbandry. The village isn’t really that remote (and the boys are sometimes dressed quite formally – more as they might be in cities?). But this is good for the sense of mystery that underpins the daily routine. I think it might be quite useful in raising discussions about film narrative.