Bal (Honey) Review

There are some scenes in films which make you hungry. Scenes where food is presented so lusciously that it doesn’t matter if you’ve just inhaled your third piece of tiramisu, you want what those movie people are having too. The prison scene in Goodfellas, when they slice up some garlic with a razor blade and add it to a rich tomato sauce, is a perfect example of this.


As the title suggests, Semih Kaplanoğlu’s Bal has food in it. And the opening shot not only makes you hanker for a jar of the sweet stuff, but also sets the mood for the entire film.

Kaplanoğlu serves up a shot of a perfectly still forest with trees and lush greenery everywhere for starters. Slowly, there’s movement in the far distance as a man emerges. This is Yakup, played by Erdal Besikçioglu and the father of Bal’s protagonist.

Standing in a clearing, he pauses and takes in his surroundings. Something drips from an overhead tree and lands on his shoulder. Scooping it up with his finger, he savours the taste and looks up. It’s honey!

Not only does the honey look damned attractive, but this first scene demonstrates Kaplanoğlu’s ability to capture beauty. Every frame in Bal looks like a painting, which is essential for a film that contains very little dialogue.

Bal tells the story of Yusuf, a little boy with a big imagination and a strong bond with his honey-collecting father. He worships him and to be honest so did I after a while. After a long day collecting honey for his family, Yakup still has the patience to answer little Yusuf’s never-ending questions.

When they journey together to find honey, Yakup will point out the various plants and what they can produce. Passing one particular plant, Yakup reminds Yusuf that this one produced the honey that made him dizzy, “Oh, the crazy honey!” yells Yusuf, genuinely scared to be reminded of its effects. That’s my favourite moment of the film;

The time and affection Yusuf has for his father, however, is not shared with his mother. They barely talk through the first part of the film, though their bond grows when Yakup fails to come home after travelling to collect honey from a remote area of the black sea region, shattering the peaceful life they both had known.

The third of Kaplanoğlu’s “Yusuf” trilogy, Bal is truly different. Nothing is wasted with this film, every line of dialogue and expression from the cast seems meticulously planned. Each passing scene makes you feel more involved and connected to the characters and story Kaplanoğlu has created.

The peaceful scenery, skilfully photographed by Bans Ozbicer, provides the perfect backdrop to highlight the complicated relationship between father and son; and then son and his mother. And Bora Atlas is quite brilliant as Yusuf. Conveying the confusion of a little boy who’s happier in his head than the world he sees, Atlas is much better than any child actor I’ve ever seen.

Before watching Bal, I knew nothing of Turkish films. But I left truly hungry for more than just honey.

Tim Green

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Dates ‘n stuff

July 2011