Neil Young from Sight & Sound on First Lights selection Meteors by Gürcan Keltek (East European premiere).

Meteors (Meteorlar, Gürcan Keltek, 2017)

"The Leonids they were called. God how the stars did fall."  Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, p. 3

The eponymous meteors in the poetic Turkish essay-documentary Meteors are not just any old rocks falling across the sky; they are the Leonids, one of the most famous, well-chronicled and spectacular of all non-permanent celestial phenomena, visible every year in mid-November ("November 17th," notes the narrator, novelist Ebru Ojen Şahin, "...This light doesn't stem from bombs. It's something else.")

As American critic Daniel Kasman noted in MUBI Notebook following the film's world-premiere at Locarno, writer-director Gürcan Keltek "finds deeply painful but also awesome connection between cosmic phenomenon and a nation’s internal bloodshed: the occurrence in 2015 of a meteor shower over Turkey at a time of martial law and violent repression of the Kurds. In beautifully grainy video, the luminous streaks across the night sky rhyme with and contrast against the gunfire and smoke of the government action."

So named because they appear from the constellation Leo (the Lion), the Leonids are particles from the tail of 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, a comet which swings around the Solar System on a 33-year cycle. When the comet is nearby, the Leonids can be explosively spectacular, most recently (and most frenziedly) in 1966 but most famously in 1833—the night when, according to the title of New York author Carl Carmer's best-selling 1934 book of nostalgic recollections, The Stars Fell on Alabama. (Because these landmark events were observable across most of North America, we know all about them...)

Capitalising on the Carmer volume's success, composers Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish used the same title for a jazz song which would quickly become a standard, covered by Sinatra, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald and countless others: "My heart beat just like a hammer / Arms wound around you tight  / While stars fell on Alabama / Last night..."

51 years later, Cormac McCarthy bookended his magnum opus Blood Meridian with cameo appearances by the Leonids. Jazz, literature... Keltek's sort-of-documentary, a discursive, elusive work which consists of six chapters and a prologue, now stands as their finest cinematic hour. They eerily dominate the crucial 15-minute Chapter V—tellingly entitled Meteorlar, just like the whole film. It even starts with the moon: a full moon in wobbly close-up, via mid-grade monochrome video, the scarred off-white disc obscured by a faint heat-haze, then black clouds. Nothing in Keltek's heavens is fixed; his cameras capture a realm as volatile and unpredictable as the war-zones on the ground.

A cityscape at night; distant screams; a mobile, aerial view of a raucous fairground, from above, as if seen by the moon herself; bizarre rides with names like CRAZY DANCE, a ride surmounted by a huge, stylised female form, like something from pagan ritual. And then, as if by happenstance, the first meteor is spotted streaking white and molten across the black expanse of night. And then another, a double-header this time, as the thundercracks of sonic booms ("louder than gunshots") rend the heavens.

Keltek flirts confidently with the confrontationally stark aesthetics of experimental cinema. Streaks blur into abstraction, unscaled and timeless, as ethereal chimes accompany the outsize light-show. The image is fragile, as prone to disintegration as the meteors themselves.

"The war stopped for a brief moment..." And the film, likewise, pauses, in awed contemplation—susurrations and epic rumblings on the soundtrack, an air of Hollywood-style apocalyptica. This is Deep Impact for real, on a shoestring, across the cold November skies of Turkey. And then... earthfall! The impact(s) of the impact(s). The realisation by the war-wearied farmers that these rocks aren't just any old rocks, that they are prized by experts from far afield, that they have unimagined cash-value: transience rendered concrete, red-hot manna from above. Pennies from heaven.

"The rain had stopped and the air was cold. He stood in the yard. Stars were falling across the sky myriad and random, speeding along brief vectors from their origins in night to their destinies in dust and nothingness."  ibid, p.351

Neil Young

Neil Young divides his time between Sunderland (UK), Vienna and the film-festival circuit, attending around 25 such events each year across Europe and further afield. He has been reviewing films for The Hollywood Reporter since 2008 and regularly contributing to Sight & Sound since 2008, in addition to writing for numerous other outlets. Director of the Bradford International Film Festival from 2011-5, he now works for several film festivals across Europe including the Viennale. He has served on more than 20 film festival juries, including Cannes (Semaine de la Critique) in 2013. 

more articles from a section:  Review

1+2.19On Sounds by ImageThe film journalist Antonín Tesař writes about the new film The Sound Is Innocent directed by Johana Ožvold.Antonín Tesař
1+2.19 Music as a Lag Between Death and InfinityJanis Prášil ruminates on Solo – this year´s winner of Ji.hlava Czech Joy section – which comes to cinemas. Did the picture succeed in depicting the inner world, so hard to portray, of a mentally ill musician? And what if it is the illness itself which enables people to take a look into the grievous core of being?Janis Prášil
1+2.19A Place to Take a BreathThe film journalist Janis Prášil compares two documentary portraits of this year – Forman vs. Forman and Jiří Suchý: Tackling Life with Ease on his blog.Janis Prášil
F2.18The Silence of Others This film by Almudena Carracedo and Rober Bahar, produced by the Almodóvar brothers, screams out for justice for the unpunished crimes of the Franco régime
F4.17China, 87. The OthersWill Tizard from Variety on the Opus Bonum selection China 87. The Others by Violaine de VillersWill Tizard
F2.17Máme tlakovú níž / Richard Müller: Nepoznaný
F1.17Also Known as JihadiWill Tizard from Variety on the Opus Bonum selection Also Known as Jihadi byEric BaudelaireWill Tizard
F1.17The Lust for PowerWill Tizard from Variety on Opus Bonum selection The Lust for Power by Tereza Nvotová (world premiere).Will Tizard
F1.17On the Edge of Freedom Sydney Levine from SydneysBuzz on First Lights selection On the Edge of Freedom by Jens Lengerke and Anita Mathal Hopland (central European premiere). Sydney Levine
F3.17Acts and IntermissionsColin Beckett on Opus Bonum selection Acts and Intermissions by Child Abigail (internationale premiere).Colin Beckett

starší články

23. 10. 2017

from current issue:

Situational reviewCaught in the Net should really be on the net if it’s going to change anythingDiscussion about the new film by Vít Klusák a Barbora Chalupová Caught in the NetKamila BoháčkováSituational reviewWill our civilisation negotiate this turn?American documentarian Jeff Gibbs’ activist film Planet of the Humans, which criticises the way we treat renewable energy sources, has evoked numerous controversial reactions. It’s no surprise that the producer is well-known filmmaker Michael Moore, who released the film freely on YouTube on Earth Day, when the worldwide corona virus pandemic was at its peak.Kamila BoháčkováNew releaseFREMWhat is it like to shoot a film in Antarctica? Is it possible to get into the head of artificial intelligence? And what is GAI? All this is described by the documentarist Viera Čákanyová in the text she wrote about her new film FREM in dok.revue.Viera ČákanyováNew releaseSun of the Living DeadAnna Kryvenko on the loss of compassion in the post-factual age, the battle with the chaos and hostility of the universe, and how to create a documentary essay from archive materials.Anna KryvenkoNew releaseThe story of a small provincial townNovice Russian director Dmitrij Bogoljubov tells dok.revue about the circumstances surrounding the origin of his new film Town of Glory, a co-production with Czech production company Hypermarket Film and Czech Television. The film uncovers the mentality of Yelnya, a provincial Russian town that is one of the most depressing in the country and where the legacy of the Great Patriotic War still lingers – something Putin’s establishment has successfully exploited to gain the support of the local citizens. The film was available to stream for a short time in March on the portal DAFilms as a part of the festival One World Online. This fall it will be shown on Czech Television and possibly in cinemas as well.Dmitrij BogoljubovThemeThere’s more than one feminismA reflection on women documentarians inspired by Barbora Baronová’s book Women on WomenMartin ŠrajerTheoryBiopics and the Trembling Ethics of the Real We publish here the essay by one of the most prominent minds in film today, Timothy Corrigan, who presented his essay “Biopics and the Trembling Ethics of the Real” at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival in fall 2019 as a part of his lecture for students in the festival’s educational module Media and Documentary.Tereza Hadravová, Timothy CorriganInterviewWe have to start with ourselves, or nothing will changeAn interview with Macedonian documentarians Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevská, creators of the film Honeyland.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewNone of the big streaming platforms are buying documentaries now because people are so scared in their personal lives Challenges for the film industry and festivals in the age of the coronavirusRadim ProcházkaIntroductionWhen local is universaldok.revue 1.20Kamila Boháčková