Saturday, July 31, 2010

Yol: Or, Why I’m Better Than You

by Jason Pyles

I love unusual films because they make such great conversation pieces. And in some sick, “I had no friends in high school” way, possessing a repertoire of obscure, filmic oddities like “Gerry,” “Freaks,” “Gates of Heaven” or “Yol” gives me some feeling of superiority over the common moviegoer. See? Just the fact that you haven’t even heard of those films makes me feel powerful …

But there’s another aspect of obscure films that I love: Watching them gives me that magical, near-euphoric feeling of being in 9th grade, eating Doritos and Mountain Dew on a Saturday at 2 a.m. and happening upon some bizarre, B-movie on a late-night cable network. The next morning you wake up and remember that viewing experience to have been a lot more interesting than it actually was.

Well, “Yol” is kind of like that. But technically, it’s not all that obscure, I guess, since it won best film in 1982 at Cannes. Then again, you could probably ask 1,000 people — in vain — if they’ve ever heard of it. Why? Because it’s a Turkish film from 1982, that’s why. It’s actually quite difficult to track down, even if you did want to watch it. Andy and I found a VHS copy from the Salt Lake City Public Library. It’s not available on Netflix or Blockbuster online. Find it and watch it and you, too, can join our elitism.

As best as I could tell from my research, “Yol” has one of three English translations: 1. “trek of life” 2. “the road” or 3. “the way.” … (Or if you’re Andy, you might interpret it as “Yo!”)

We learn from its deadly serious preface that “Yol” is a message movie whose filmmakers and cast put themselves at great risk just to be associated with the project.

A few inmates at a “half-open prison” are permitted a week-long leave from the prison. They embark on their journey and begin dispersing to various cities. Naturally, each inmate has his demons associated with his prison sentence, but some prisoners’ baggage is heavier than the others’.

Mostly, “Yol” is just a long, slow, passage-of-time film. Now, at first, this seems about right because, after all, it’s a film about inmates: A convict’s sense of time passing must seem really slow. But when you think about it, this one measly week must really seem to fly to these typically caged birds.

Anyway, the fact that “Yol” is subtitled and very slow will probably discourage most viewers from ever watching it. But there are rewards for those who do. There are revelations and occurrences in “Yol” that become progressively more and more troubling. Remember how the Brad Pitt character’s initial death scene in “Meet Joe Black” is jarringly startling? Well, there’s nothing immediately upsetting about “Yol.” Its alarming developments slowly become increasingly alarming as they echo in your mind. The more you dwell on “Yol,” the more haunting it becomes.

To keep this film and our elite status exclusive, I won’t reveal what these troubling developments are. You’ll just have to brave it for yourself. But if you read Andy’s exceptional review below (posted on July 6), he throws a bone and reveals one of the stories.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying "Yol" is entertaining at all. Watching "Yol" is akin to eating a worm: It's not overly pleasant while you're doing it, but after you've endured the experience, you have a singular accomplishment (that nobody cares about).

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