Small Town, The (1997)

A strong, poetic feature debut from a master-in-the-making, centering on two young children’s perspective of living in their home village, as the adults around them converse about the cruelty and misery of life.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,094

Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan
1997 | Turkey | Drama | 80 mins | 1.66:1 | Turkish
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Mehmet Emin Toprak, Havva Saglam, Cihat Butun
Plot: The story of a family living in a small godforsaken town in Turkey seen through the eyes of children and dealing with the growing complexity when one becomes an adult.
Awards: Won Caligari Film Award (Berlinale)
International Sales: Pyramide Intl

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Life, Family, Childhood
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

The Small Town features probably the strongest first twenty minutes of any film Nuri Bilge Ceylan has made so far.  The setting is a school classroom in the midst of winter, heated by a boiler in the middle. 

The students try to follow the teacher’s instructions, but the latter is distracted by the wintry conditions (or is he thinking about his life?), just like how the students are also distracted by a solitary feather floating around in the room. 

Someone’s homemade lunch seems to have gone bad to the teacher’s annoyance, while later, a student comes in late—the snow from his jacket, hung over the boiler, falls and sizzles on the hot surface. 

Ceylan’s attention to environmental detail and mood-setting is extraordinary, and it now seems easy to see why he would become one of the medium’s current masters. 

The Small Town is a strong, poetic feature debut, centering on two young children’s perspective of living in their home village (shot in the Anatolian hometown of Ceylan’s childhood), and features nonprofessional actors who are mostly friends and relatives of the director. 

As winter transits to the other seasons, we become privy to the children’s curious observations of nature, and most conspicuously in an extended segment shot at night around a campfire, their experiences listening in to the conversations of adults in the family as they argue over history, politics and family issues. 

The cruelty and misery of life are laid bare—but kids are kids and probably can’t grasp the idea of existential crises.  Yet the children are the envy of the adults—what is it like to be young again, even if only a memory?

Grade: A-



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