BAL (Semih Kaplanoğlu, 2010)

Bal (Honey) culminates in a beautiful shot, into which the entire film pours: that of a six-year-old, smiling boy, having taken refuge in the forest he associates with his absent father, silent and with eyes closed, nestled for the night. Images this wonderful do not grow on trees, which may be why Semih Kaplanoğlu’s quiet film, which Kaplanoğlu and Orçun Köksal co-wrote, won the top prize at both Berlin and RiverRun. Unfortunately, this film from Turkey can be described as being somewhere between lethargic and stultifying. Except for its stunning, and organic, finish, I hated it.
      Yusuf’s relationship with his father, Yakup, occupies the center of the film. A poor farmer, Yakup helps support his family by collecting honey from the forest’s beehives. Except when he is at school, where he is having a tough time reading aloud in class, Yusuf spends time accompanying Yakup, whom he idolizes. The two often communicate in whispers; Yakup teaches Yusuf to recount his sleep-dreams only in whispers so as not to let a dream “get out.” When Zehra, his mother, recounts aloud to Yusuf the dream she had the previous night, he rudely bolts. Because all the hives in the nearby forest have run dry, the bees having mysteriously disappeared, Yakup leaves home to search for hives still in operation. Mother and son wait for Yakup’s return. Zehra, who has been worrying about his future, overhears Yusuf reading aloud, without stutter or stumble, a letter from his father. But Yakup never does make it home.
     I found preposterous the father-son relationship in this film; moreover, Yusuf is as boring as any other six-year-old boy. The forest is pretty; but why wouldn’t it be? (Barış Özbiçer won prizes for his textured color cinematography at Istanbul and RiverRun.)

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