Burning Days (2022)

One of Turkey’s most underrated directors reaches new filmmaking heights in this terrific slow-burn of a psychological thriller, set in a sweltering, water-scarce town in danger of imploding.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,491

Dir. Emin Alper
2022 | Turkey | Drama | 127 min | 2.35:1 | Turkish
NC16 (passed clean) for some coarse language and mature content

Cast: Selahattin Pasali, Ekin Koc, Hatice Aslan
Emre, a young prosecutor, newly appointed to the small town of Balkaya find himself being pulled into a political conflict during his first murder investigation.
Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award & Queer Palm (Cannes)
International Sales: The Match Factory

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Investigation; Small-Town Politics
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener – Singapore Film Society
Spoilers: No

Emre, a newly appointed public prosecutor arrives in a rural Turkish town and is perturbed by its slack enforcement of the law.  As a morally upright person, he attempts to bring about change… only to learn that this is no ordinary town. 

Selahattin Pasali is excellent as Emre, whose first task is to bring to justice the perpetrator in a case of sexual assault.  As he is pulled into the investigation, local elections are just around the corner, with the incumbent mayor hoping to be re-elected. 

The mayor promises a more consistent supply of water in this sweltering, water-scarce town with huge sinkholes.  In this stifling environment, however, the unforgiving weather takes a backseat as plot complexities unravel. 

”I am a man of law. I can’t turn a blind eye.”

Structured in four chapters, namely, ‘The Feast’, ‘The Investigation’, ‘New Arrests’ and ‘The Elections’, writer-director Emin Alper liberally uses flashbacks to great effect, focusing on Emre’s hazy state of mind as he becomes psychologically embedded within the investigation, while at the same time trying to assert his legal power. 

Alper, who last made A Tale of Three Sisters (2019), is one of Turkey’s most underrated directors.  With Burning Days, we see him reach new filmmaking heights with a terrific slow-burn of a psychological thriller, exploring themes of power plays, injustice, the veracity of ‘truths’ and character assassination. 

Although the film takes its time to lay the necessary groundwork, especially in the enigmatic if disquieting first chapter, by the time we are deep into the second chapter, we would begin to realise what Alper is trying to accomplish—which is to build, beat-by-beat, layer-by-layer, mounting dread and tension, culminating in one of the strongest and most satisfying denouements of the year.  

Grade: A-


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