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The Small Town (Kasaba)

Doug Cummings, Film Journey (USA), Oct 4, 2004

Based on an autobiographical story by his sister, Ceylan's first feature fashions the images and setting of his short film into a study of Turkish provincial life. It's arranged around the four seasons, and the beginning presents winter through the interactions within a children's classroom. Ceylan's quiet observation of the children's behaviors as they ostensibly recite their studies is masterful. Cutting between the teacher gazing out the window at an increasing snow storm and the various unexpected moments of distraction within the classroom, Ceylan crafts a touching portrait of childhood.

Later, the film follows one of the schoolgirls and her younger brother as they play in the woods during the spring and attend a family camping trip in the summer. The latter scene is a vivid juxtaposition of characters as they address the path of their lives and debate such issues as chance and fate, faith and rationality. The young girl's cousin, Saffet (Mehmet Emin Toprack, Ceylan's cousin, who will star in the filmmakers two successive films before tragically dying in an automobile accident), is out-of-work and aimless, dreaming of seeking his fortune in Istanbul. In one scene, Saffet wanders around an amusement park, and the air-bound riders on a whirling swing revolve above his head like the many possible personifications of his uncertain future.

The film is again beautifully shot and evokes a rich autobiographical feel that stems not only from the offscreen realities of Ceylan's cast but also from its aesthetic intensity shifting between the faces of his family and the natural details of their setting with equal, knowing clarity.