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. 

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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
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starší články

23. 10. 2017

from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoySportPandemic as an opportunityJi.hlava's Emerging Producers discuss the opportunity that can emerge from crisisSteve RickinsonInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková