LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: GRAIN – the latest feature from Semih Kaplanoglu – screened at Curzon Soho (15 OCT). Here’s our writeup.
GRAIN (2017, Turkey, Germany, France, Sweden, 127min)
RADIANT CIRCUS has really benefited from the post-film Q&A sessions at this year’s festival. Whilst some of them ended up with a soggy bottom, oftentimes they iced the cake. Occasionally they made you hungry enough for a second slice. Watching GRAIN followed by discussion with Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu was a fully loaded three-tiered afternoon tea.
7 years in development, GRAIN is a sci-fi spiritual allegory about the unravelling of evolution. It’s set in an indeterminate future where genetically modified crops are systematically failing and society has been divided to restrict demand on limited resources. Between those ‘benefitting’ from authoritarian protection in the cities and those living in chaos beyond the wall in the badlands, there seems little hope. More crops fail as humanity’s experiments start to corrupt the very fabric of nature.
“What is it that we are missing?”
Erol (Jean-Marc Barr), a scientist, learns of possible salvation in the form of ‘genetic chaos’ theory. Taking matters into his own hands, he heads into the wilderness in pursuit of knowledge. Along the way, he acts as our canary in the spiritual coal mine, falling in with a mysterious bearded seer (Ermin Bravo) who appears to have knowledge beyond that of most humans. Together, they embark on an odyssey beset by peril, protected by ritual and illuminated by spirit.
It’s a stark film, shot in stunning black and white by Giles Nuttgens across several blighted locations including the abandoned realms of Detroit. These are 35mm images that startle, drawn equally from science fiction (a barrier wall from Trump’s wettest dreams) and the spiritual realm (a secret stash of unpolluted soil). With characters speaking a globalised English that isn’t entirely their own, GRAIN presents an awkward other world where there are no easy solutions.
“We are not an experiment”
Talking after his film, Kaplanoglu explains the frequent onscreen resonances to Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky. He considers himself a disciple even though the two filmmakers never met “in this life”. This reverence extends to both film technique and a sense of humanity’s spiritual place in the natural world. GRAIN builds from the story of Moses in the Qur’an.
Expanding on these themes, Kaplanoglu speaks passionately about issues such as globalisation, immigration and the genetic manipulation of our foodstuffs. In his view, there are powerful global undercurrents keeping society diverted from our core concerns through unfettered consumption. Such powerful perspectives drag you back into the bleak cinematic world he’s created, better prepared to harvest GRAIN’s mysteries for yet more meaning.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- Find GRAIN, Semih Kaplanoglu and his spirit animal, Andrei Tarkovsky, on IMDb.
- GRAIN screened in the DARE strand of the 61st BFI London Film Festival: “In-your-face, up-front and arresting: films that take you out of your comfort zone. Read our other festival writeups here.
- Don’t just take our blogging word for it: FILM INK (absolutely) hated it whilst SCREENWORDS had a very different view.
- Kaplanoglu gives good interview over at SCREEN DAILY.
Featured images: GRAIN (2017).