Navigating the “Dare” strand of the London Film Festival can bring the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Often there is absolutely no way of telling what lies ahead; it is as thrilling as it is troubling. Grain is another unexpected one which amounts to little more than old men languorously rubbing themselves in soil. Stay with us.
It’s hard to name many ecological disaster movies, let alone black-and-white arthouse ones inspired by a chapter from the Quran. Turkish filmmaker Semih Kaplanoğlu’s heavily allegorical followup to Honey, which won the Golden Bear at Berlinale in 2010, is certainly ambitious but is also slightly overwrought, and its pretentions risk alienating audiences.
In terms of aesthetics, Kaplanoğlu expects the viewer to do a lot of work. The black-and-white photography challenges the eye to differentiate between colours, and the sound design provides very little ambient noise and absolutely no non-diegetic music. Shots are protracted ad infinitum and there is little dialogue to keep audiences engaged. However, it must be admitted that the cinematography is astounding. Giles Nuttgens (Hell or High Water) has crafted, at 24 frames a second for 127 minutes, gallery-worthy artwork.
Our weathered hero Professor Erol Erin (Jean-Marc Barr) journeys across the forbidden Dead Lands in search of elusive geneticist Cemil Akhman (Ermin Bravo, also great). Their performances suggest a sense of danger, but very little of that comes across: acid rain and poisonous soil don’t pose an immediate threat, while a slightly menacing drone only appears once.
Artistically and philosophically impenetrable, and crossing the threshold of the two-hour mark, Grain is a challenge of a film. True to its strand, this is a daring film and, as such, deserves a release in order to find some sort of niche existential eco-disaster audience.
CAST: Jean-Marc Barr, Ermin Bravo, Grigoriy Dobrygin
DIRECTOR: Semih Kaplanoğlu
WRITERS: Semih Kaplanoğlu, Leyla Ìpekçi
SYNOPSIS: Inspired by a chapter from the Quran, Grain is a post-apocalyptic story set in a world where those that survive are divided between the remnants of cities and agricultural zones. Both of these factions are ruled by corporations and populated by elites. In the areas called Dead Lands, genetically incompatible immigrants suffer from drought and epidemics.