Yol is a great example of a filmmaker’s determination and ambition to get a film made no matter what the cost or effort needed to do so. The director, Yilmaz Guney, was in Turkish prison when he wanted to make this film, first for harboring anarchists, and then once more for shooting a judge in a drunken row, so he was obviously in no position to make a film, much less ask for leniency given the type of film he wanted to make. Nevertheless, he wrote the script, and got detailed and exacting instructions out of the prison and into the hands of his field assistant (and, while he was in jail, his proxy director), Serif Goren, who made several Guney films according to these instructions, including Yol. If any of Guney’s films should make the list, it stands to reason it would be this one, as it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in ’82, but as I’ve discovered in my exodus through Palme d’Or winners from the list, especially the more modern ones, that is no secure expectation that the film in question is entertaining, or even in some cases good.
Yol is a deconstruction of the current state of Turkey, after the coup d’etat of 1980, seen through the eyes of a handful of Turkish prisoners given a week’s leave from incarceration. In doing so, the film is very obviously structured to expose the various facets of this era of Turkish history, and the individual stories of each of the prisoners on leave is designed to bring out one aspect each for us to focus on, though it is not in a blocked-out order; we cut between the stories often, and this makes the film more engaging, for what it’s worth. I probably shouldn’t have seen this right after Loulou, as the technicals for the films are nearly identical; realistic cinematography and acting, through a mostly handheld camera. What makes Yol different from the apathetic approach of Loulou is two things: the musical score that Yol uses (to great effect, in my opinion; I was constantly enjoying the music even while I was enjoying the film), and the presence that the performances bring to the screen. The actors in Yol ooze gravitas and weight, and a lot of the shots in the film are just of them staring at something slightly off-camera, or even into the camera itself, which combined with the music track, makes for surprisingly entrancing viewing (as does the shots in the snowy landscape in the second half of the film). The stories themselves are interesting enough, but not anything to stare in wonder over; as long as you’re not going into this looking for a whiz-bang spectacle of a script, you should be all right, though I will say the film got a lot more impactful and entertaining in the last third or so of the film, where there’s more story resolution than political metaphor.
I get the feeling that the editors of the List are quite often mistaking “important” as “must-see”. In terms of importance, this film is quite high on the list, being essentially an expose on the post-coup-d’etat culture of Turkey, written by a current Turkish convict, and thus the portrayal of the country and how it works and operates is bound to be less than flattering. Thus, the film works much like Z and Man of Marble, and to that end, yes, it definitely has an important place in Turkish film history. But, despite its importance, there is very little about this one that makes it a “must see” experience, either for its greatness or for its uniqueness, because it doesn’t have either one. It’s not a bad film, especially for the type of film that it is trying to be; it pretty much succeeds at what it sets out to do. But going through this list, my eyes are always on the lookout for that special something that truly makes a film a can’t-miss experience, for whatever reason, and Yol didn’t have that. If there were another list made of The 1001 Most Important Films of All Time, they can count on my votes to put Yol on that list, but “must see”? That’s an entirely different thing altogether.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10