Sunday, November 23, 2008

Times and Winds (Bes vakit) A Film by Reha Erdem (2006)

Two years ago, Reha Erdem's film festival contribution Times and Winds, only his fourth feature film, was met with assured praise. This September, Nick James of Sight and Sound took into account the triumphant nature of the film and declared Erdem as one of the emerging talents of Turkish cinema, along with Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Thankfully, Times and Winds deserves the credit it has been given.

A work of striking cinematographic beauty, it depicts a group of children freely growing up in a village divided by five time zones that shift with each call to prayer. The film pulses with the rhythms of a life that is unique to most, even ethereal to some. The forays into schoolhouse montage and voice-over establish a disassociation with the grounded schedules of common life: the young girl recites a lesson on the celestial movement that seems fundamental yet secondary to the procession of life in the Turkish village. Adults carry out routine jobs among the livestock while the children prance spontaneously around the pastoral vistas. Amidst this quotidian simplicity, there is the steady driving force of the Islamic prayers. Erdem portrays the fathers of the village as being one-sided and unfair, always preferring one son over another. This attitude has a direct effect on Omer, the boy who hopes clumsily for his father Imam to die. He shares his wishful thinking with his friend Yakup, and eventually decides that death will not present itself and he must take action himself. Yakup strongly lusts after his school teacher in a childish way that seems inescapably tied to that sexual confusion that exists only during the brief transition from childhood to teenage years. Another boy named Yildiz steals goods from a tree and is whipped repetitively in return by a gruff farmer.

Times and Winds evidently unfolds in an episodic, lyrical manner. These vignettes are paced slowly and assisted by composer Arvo Part's persistently mysterious score. (It's beautiful music, but I believe it's used too often.) In an attempt to familiarize the audience with the village, Erdem takes obvious pleasure in the protracted Steadicam shots that trail the kids through the rock wall alleyways adorned by airy bushes and bundles of sticks. The cumulative mood of the film is rather sobering, but its tendency to toss you around plot-wise doesn't help to create a relationship with its characters, whom are mostly non-actors. Instead, the film just washes over the viewer with all its photographic flawlessness. The sunny hills are irresistibly gorgeous and the versatile crane shots are a welcome upgrade to the usual low budget undertakings of Turkish cinema. While it could use some directorial polish and poetic refinement, Times and Winds is a worthy experience to seek out.

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