Review: About Dry Grasses


Nuri Bilge Ceylan uses light, a distinctive feature of his Rembrandt-like cinematography, to expose the interior mood of his characters. The shadows of darkness in secret meetings and the stark, cold snow landscape in “About Dry Grasses” reflect a brooding, cold, detached presence in the soul of the principle character.

Samet (Deniz Celiloglu) is a public school art teacher in a Turkish mountain village who worries other people. His mother worries about him not marrying, his boss worries about his casual friendliness with his students, and his best friend, Kenan (Musab Ekici), worries about his relationship with Nuray.

But Samet worries that he has no freedom, which he envisions must be present in Istanbul, far away from the freezing-cold isolated village where he has been stationed as a teacher.

Surprisingly, complex Nuray (played by Merve Dizdar, who won the 2023 Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her exquisitely nuanced portrayal), whom Samet introduced to Kenan as a possible wife, is the voice of both liberation and insight. She tells Samet that he will criticize everywhere and everyone no matter where he is or whom he meets. It is about his attitude, not his proximity.

“About Dry Grasses” is about discontent. Sometimes a lack of satisfaction motivates us to greater achievement. But other times, it has us walking on the edge, destroying what we have and always thinking that the grass is greener on the other side.

Samet metaphorically walks on the dry grasses of discontent, but he expects Istanbul to be fertile with freedom. At his core, he is existentially locked in a barren world without purpose, joy, or love.

Using Sevim, an approximately 12-year-old girl (Ece Bagci), a student of Samet’s, to represent a forbidden attraction, Ceylan and his writers (including his wife, Ebru Ceylan) take a risky step in a Muslim culture. The screenplay is partially autobiographical of the third writer, Akin Aksu, who actually was an art teacher in a mountain village.

In America, touching is not allowed and teachers are trained every year in acceptable professional conduct. No doubt the expectations are the same in a Muslim country like Turkey. Currying a relationship through gifts, meetings and casual conversation can be attributed as grooming, so teachers need to stay distant. Samet is more guilty, in his mind and actions, than he understands.

Ceylan’s use of varying degrees of light in his environments brings richness to his insightful films and has earned him multiple awards including the Cannes Grand Prix for “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.”

“About Dry Grasses,” also a winner of awards, is exquisitely produced and directed. However, in the version I viewed, the subtitles were in unvarying white, often over a snowy background, so I couldn’t always read them. It is also 3 hours and 17 minutes long with segments that could have been cut. Essentially, “About Dry Grasses” is a slow character study of self-alienation by a tremendous director and talented cinematographers.


Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Writers: Akin Aksu, Ebru Ceylan, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Cinematographers: Cevahir Sahin and Kursat Resin
Stars: Deniz Celiloglu, Merve Dizdar, Musab Ekici and Ece Bagci
Wide Release: Feb 25, 2024
Streaming Release: May 21, 2024 on the Criterion Channel
Official Website and How to See:

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