In "Times and Winds," the children of Turkey are learning that the earth spins west to east. At least, that's what their teacher keeps telling them. For most of the characters in this story, though, the world seems to be standing still.
Written and directed by Reha Erdem, "Times and Winds" (a.k.a. "Bes vakit") presents a bleak, vivid dramatization of life in a rural Turkish village where grownups seem unable to progress past the mistakes of their parents, and kids are too beaten down to change the status quo.
The film centers on three young friends. The first, Omer (Ozkan Ozen), is the son of a respected imam who is far less of a spiritual leader at home. Belittled and pushed to the point where he prays daily for his father's death, Omer eventually takes matters into his own hands, but every clumsy attempt at murder brings him more frustration.
Another boy, Yakup (Ali Bey Kayali), has a mad crush on his pretty teacher. He fantasizes about marrying her, until one day he catches his father peeping through the woman's window. Suddenly innocence is gone, and with it a dream that isn't easily replaced in this remote and rocky part of the world.
The third young lead is Yildiz (Elit Iscan), who has even fewer options despite being a terrific student with a loving father. Her stern mother saddles her with endless domestic responsibilities that include caring for a baby brother she's barely big enough to carry. Sex, from what she observes in humans and animals, seems a fascinating trap.
Erdem constructs "Times and Winds" in five parts that parallel traditional Islamic prayer times: night, evening, afternoon, noon, and morning. As the stories unfold, we're meant to see how progression and regression sometimes intertwine, and why faith does not always cultivate hope.
The film's setting and photography are often stunning, but Erdem and his go-to cinematographer, Florent Herry ("Mommy, I'm Scared" and "A Run for Money"), stumble when they pile on extended tracking shots that make it feel as if we're being hitched over and over to the same wagon being pulled by a different kid. At nearly two hours, the film seems overlong. And despite natural, sometimes gripping performances from a cast led by nonprofessional child actors, the script's unrelenting cynicism can wear on a viewer.
Still, "Times and Winds" impresses by presenting a frank, unflattering, sometimes sarcastic chronicle of Turkish life that would otherwise pass unseen by most of the world. From east to west, it offers lessons.