(05/09/07) – Artificial Eye have released a 2 disc set of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s early films Kasaba (The Small Town, 1997), and Mayis Sikintisi (Clouds of May, 1999). The release makes perfect sense as a combination, as the two films compliment each other, but mostly it gives those who have been impressed by the Turkish director’s 2002 Cannes Grand Prix winner, Uzak (Distant), and last year’s Iklimer (Climates), a chance to see the early development of this highly rated film-maker.

While the director seems to be getting stronger with each new film he makes, the two films on offer here are nothing short of beautiful. The photographic sharpness, focus on humanity, and the themes of restlessness, urban drift, and life choices, which shape the later films, are also featured here.

Ceylan came to film from practising photography and the eye has developed filters through to his cinematography. If these films were albums of single shots of wide foreboding skies holding threatening clouds, the wind dancing through fields, the play of shadows on fairgrounds, and the grooved lines on aging faces, or the yearning look in the eyes of children, they would warrant repeated viewings in their own right. What makes these films superbly shot films work as moving pictures is the combination of framing, pacing, and storytelling, of a very natural and human kind.

The feel of these films is reminiscent of early films from Wim Wenders, such as Alice in the Cities, or Kings of The Road. There is a sense of realism in the exploration of human interaction, and internal desire, of hope, and of memory that is reminiscent also of the Free Cinema films of Lindsay Anderson, such as Thursday’s Children, O Dreamland, and Every Day Except Christmas.

The interaction of actors and landscape, the focus on passing moments, rather than a movement through an obviously devise audience-pleasing plot structure, reflects the films of Tarkovsky, or Ozu. As in Ozu films, families talk about the past, the present and the future, and the camera is often set at about waist level to capture the action, or conversation in unobtrusive medium to long shots, with little tracking. The result for the viewer is one of feeling that you are sitting and experiencing the situations with the immediate presence and opportunity to observe the finest details of the scene offered by still photography.

Clouds of May carries a dedication to Anton Chekhov, and it is more than the concern over an orchard, that carries the Russian writer’s influence in the work of Ceylan. The notion of urban drift, of the possibilities offered by the metropolis over the limitations of the provincial small town, which manages to keep a magnetic pull over the characters, as it contains family history, is a strong feature of these two films. This theme is further developed in Uzak, which explores the eventualities of the young escaping the parental town for the independence offered by Istanbul. The conversations in the film echo those from Chekhov’s work, wherein generational aspirations, memories, and disappointments, are laid bare.

As with the sheer brilliance of the photography enhancing but not overwhelming Ceylan’s work, neither do the aforementioned, and other various influences on his work, prevent these films from containing a unique and flowing cinematic voice. There is a strong sense of the autobiographical in these films and notably, Clouds of May features a plot line based on the filming of an earlier film, Kasaba. It seems inevitable that Ceylan will go on to make even greater films in his career, but these films on their own are more unique and beautiful than mere starting points.

The DVD of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s early film works is out now. Please follow links provided to buy a copy and support Kamera by doing so.