Yusuf (Bora Altas) is not the first photogenically dark-eyed tyke to discover how kind and cruel nature can be, but that’s not to detract from the magical serenity of Turkey’s 2010 Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film. The prequel in a trilogy by director Semih Kaplanoglu, Bal reconciles Yusuf’s emergent spiritual life with the overwhelming majesty of his natural surroundings in a mountainous region of Turkey. For this soulful child with a stutterer’s instinct for observation, this is simply his world, bounded by the path that runs between his home, the one-room schoolhouse, and the woods where he goes with his beloved father (Erdal Besikçioglu) to set hives for the bees that are mysteriously disappearing from the area. There’s little dialogue and no score other than the intense sound of a page turning or the flapping of a bird’s wing. Bal proceeds with unhurried Kiarostamian tolerance for silence, for the rhythms of domestic routine and the matter-of-fact solidarity of a community rallying in the face of trouble. Though this graceful film is a minor addition to the canon of Middle Eastern cinema in which nothing and everything happens, Bal is still a beauty.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 23, 2011