KASABA (Turkey / 1998)
Narratively abstract and formally austere, Kasaba (The Small Town), the debut feature from Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is based on a short autobiographical story by his sister. Set in a provincial Turkish town (much like Ceylans earlier short, Cocoon ), the film seamlessly unfolds over four seasons and poignantly touches upon the lives of three generations of an extended family. A classroom is the primary setting of the opening winter segment. Ceylans exquisite B&W establishing shots of the snow-covered hills and streets come into play as a morose teacher gazes outside at the sterile environment, while the children are heard reciting words that deal with the notions of companionship and mutual support. Next, we follow a couple of kids, including the young girl earlier witnessed at school, as they walk home through the fields. Spring is in full swing. The wondrous elements of nature get refracted through the psychology of children. Most of the films second-half consists of a conversation between the elder members of the kids family who are gathered around a fire (featuring Ceylan's real-life parents Fatma and Mehmet Emin, parts of this segment exert their presence in the director's subsequent effort, Clouds of May ). The cousin (played by late Mehmet Emin Toprak, a prominant figure in Clouds and Distant ), who was earlier seen adrift in an amusement park, is an aimless and disaffected young man trying to escape the static village life but doesnt have many other options. The discussion, listened to by the half-asleep kids, evolves from distant history to the realities of modern day Turkey, ultimately focusing on personal values and responsibilities. Ceylans reality-based aesthetic takes a back seat during the impressionistic, dream-like sequence which follows. It perfectly bookends this elegant and graceful film from a burgeoning authority in world cinema.
*KASABA premiered at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival. Now available as part of a 2-disc set from Artificial-Eye (U.K.).