Times and Winds (15)

This engaging Turkish coming-of-age drama offers welcome glimpses of sunshine – but there are some dark clouds too

Review,Jonathan Romney
Sunday 31 August 2008 00:00

In years gone by, this might have been a working definition of "art cinema": films in which the weather mattered more than the story. The windswept likes of Powell and Pressburger's I Know Where I'm Going and Rossellini's Stromboli, Tarkovsky's epics of mud and rain – all films that make you want to grab a warm blanket the second you leave the cinema. These days, such weather dramas seem to be rare, but this week brings a vintage specimen – poetic, imposing and, a welcome bonus, touched with enough sunshine to make it qualify as the one true "summer movie" we've seen this summer.

Times and Winds is one of those films made by a director who's apparently stepped out of the blue with a fully formed style and radiant auteur confidence. In fact, it's the fourth feature from Turkish director Reha Erdem, and by all accounts, a leap ahead of his others. Erdem's magnificent, and magnificently simple, film is a portrait of a mountain village and its Muslim inhabitants: it's about three children and their families, the rigours and beauties of the landscape, the pleasures and agonies of childhood, the inevitability of growing up. There's not a lot of event, at least not presented in such a way that it coheres into story: a boy harbours resentment against his imam father; another develops a crush on his teacher; a girl has an accident that, late in this sleepy film, suddenly makes your heart leap into your throat.

There's brutality and unhappiness in a seemingly placid universe, yet throughout it all, landscape, weather and custom remain indifferent to people's lives: the moon still rises; the muezzin still makes his prayer call; the wind still blows. And how it blows: anyone who thinks of the country as a place of buzzing calm should hear this constant background commotion of water, rustling leaves, tumbling pebbles, goat bells.

Structured around the muezzin's five prayer calls of the day – captioned backwards from night to morning – Erdem's film is an impressionistic essay on the passing of time, and the keynote is unmistakably that of the elemental, even the transcendental. But there's nothing solemn or overemphatically spiritual here – except for Erdem's tendency to overuse the imposing music of Arvo Pärt, all too easy a way to buy in ready-made momentousness. Times and Winds is often at its best when swooping down from the empyrean to show us life on the ground – the soap opera stuff, if you like. One boy, Yakup (Ali Bey Kayali), helps his young schoolteacher when she steps on a thorn: for an instant, he holds her bare foot, and you can guess that this quietly rapturous moment will stay with him for life. Another boy, Omer (Ozkan Ozen), hates his father for doting exclusively on his infuriatingly angelic little brother. Determined to kill his ailing dad, he goes about it any way he can devise, leaving a window open, emptying the medicine from his capsules, finally attempting something more drastic – at which point the camera swoops up to the sky, as if in vertiginous shock.

There are echoes here of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, and his village dramas, but Erdem works in a lusher register. The sometimes picturesque beauty of Florent Henry's photography might make some hardcore art-house adepts suspicious – as if anything this consciously gorgeous can't be the real thing – but the touches of artifice in the realism are genuinely striking. Colours are heightened: blazing red flowers, a green door, the blue of the schoolchildren's strange collared smocks. And certain images tremble on a border between reality and dream: in a leitmotif, children lie asleep in deep foliage, thorn bushes or in the hollowed trunk of a huge tree. You don't know whether they're hiding from the terrors of their world, merging blissfully with nature, or dreaming the film we're watching.

Elsewhere, the children simply lie back and gaze up at the sky, lost in vacant contemplation: an image that shows that, if Times and Winds is so eloquent about the mysteries of nature, the film covertly has just as much to say about the dreamy pleasures of cinema itself.

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