Posted July 13, 2011 by Marcia Degia - Publisher in B

Bal (Honey)

Turkish cinema is on the rise. Turkish directors such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Abdullah Oguz are already commanding international attention

Turkish cinema is on the rise. Turkish directors such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Abdullah Oguz are already commanding international attention and now so is Semih Kaplanoğlu. With his stripped-back style of directing, Kaplanoğlu has won many awards on his home turf and for Bal (Honey), his fifth film and third in a trilogy, he was recently awarded the Golden Bear at the 60th Berlin International Festival.

Bal is a bucolic tale about a small boy called Yusef (Bora Altas), the protagonist in the first two films of the trilogy – Süt (Milk) and Yumurta (Egg) – who idolises his honey-farming father, Yakup(Erdal Besikçioglu). One day Yukup fails to return from the forest where he goes to set hives up in the tall trees using only his balancing skills and some strong rope.

Set in the rural Black Sea region of Turkey, nature and its power and beauty are very much a part of the film and integral to Yusef and his father’s life. Yusef is a pensive, sensitive boy eager to please his male elders – particularly his father and school teacher. His time is split between school, where he intensely covets a red badge given to pupils who read well, and home with his father at the dinner table and in the forest. The first half of the film centres on the powerful relationship between Yusef and Yukup. Yusef tells his father about his dreams, although the audience do not get to hear them as Yukup warns him ‘you must not tell people your dreams.’ Dreams are a strong theme throughout Bal and it is unclear whether Yusef actually has a premonition about his father’s fate in his dreams, which seem to trouble him. His love for his father is such that one day when he follows him he is hurt and angry as he watches Yukup give another boy a small treat.

His mother mostly takes a back seat in the film until the second half when they both wait apprehensively for Yakup’s return. As it becomes apparent this may not happen, Yusef, who is already fairly isolated at school, retreats further into himself until by the end of the film, nature and the forest, where he used to watch his father work in glee, is his only comfort.

Bal can also be read from an Islamic perspective of Joseph and Jacob in the bible but if you have no knowledge of Islamic religion or the Bible it stands perfectly alone by itself. The most beautiful and powerful aspect of Bal is the way Kaplanoğlu sensitively and with obvious compassion, captures what it is to be a small child –feelings, fear and the eagerness to please – and the unspoken bond between a father and son.

The film opens with Yukup climbing a rope attached to a branch of a tree, the branch suddenly weakens and appears to be about to snap – an early indication of his fate. What’s most notable about this opening is the power of Kaplanoğlu’s use of an almost entirely static camera, which rarely moves, a technique employed throughout the film and the sound of nature whistling in the background–the only soundtrack to the film.

Kaplanoğlu’s pared to the bone, naturalistic directing style and absence of incidental music throughout the 103 minute running time may not appeal to some viewers but it allows the talented Bora Altas to shine. This said, Bal would benefit from a shorter running time. The final segment of Kaplanoğlu’s trilogy, actually the beginning of Yusef’s story continued in the other two films, is poignant, delicately heartbreaking and definitely worth a watch.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia has worked in the media industry for more than 10 years. She was previously Acting Managing Editor of Homes and Gardens magazine, Publishing Editor at Macmillan Publishers and Editor of Pride Magazine. Marcia, who has a Masters degree in Screenwriting, has also been involved in many broadcast projects. Among other things, she was the devisor of the documentary series Secret Suburbia for Living TV.