TIFF 2023: The Reeds Review

Cemil Ağacıkoğlu's slow burn story of oppression and rebellion is an absolute masterpiece.

The opening shot of The Reeds is so stunning and picturesque that its layers take a moment to sink in. It’s almost like a flag, an English cross of water cut into by patches of reeds in each corner. In the center of the flag is a lonely boat and, in that boat, an even lonelier man.

Ali (Hilmi Ahıska) is a simple reed farmer who has accepted, like almost everyone else around him, the particulars of his life. The lack of adequate resources. The monotony of one day to the next. That there are some people who have all the power while everyone else follows in their direction. He is those followers and that meekness, that exhaustion of accepting his profoundly unjust reality, has seeped into his very bones. Until, one day, he sees that the one he perceived to have power does not, in fact, possess it with an iron grip.

The Reeds is a slow burn but it’s deliberately paced – never boring, never stagnant. You feel the languid nature and rhythms of everyday life in this Turkish village, nestled in the heartland of Anatolia. As the film unspools, you also understand just how people became used to the power dynamics that occupy the heart of the story. It’s a mixture of absolutely stunning landscapes of central Anatolia beautifully captured on screen and a script that moves just as much as it needs to.

When that moment arrives, when the first crack in the power dynamic occurs, its significance is felt. Then, when that crack fully snaps and breaks apart, you as the audience know that this village will never be the same again. Writer and director Cemil Ağacıkoğlu trusts the audience fully to comprehend how those dynamics are shifting, never explaining too much through unnecessary exposition. Instead, he relies on his extraordinary cast and master cinematographer Emre Pekçakir to convey the story and its themes. It’s an assured approach from an experienced filmmaker and it results in an absolute masterpiece.


Hilmi Ahıska’s Ali is at the center of the story but the rest of the cast is stacked with one standout performance on top of another. Sevgi Temel’s Aysel is especially crucial to experiencing the full impact of the story and, in particular, its critical pivot in the third act. Her expressions give such insight into the film’s events and her relationship with Ali that Ağacıkoğlu almost doesn’t need to use any explicit verbiage. The camera just focuses on her and the story says everything it needs to.

The Reeds is such a layered text that to say it’s primarily about one thing does it a disservice. However, the film’s display of urgency in expressing the human spirit of rebellion is insightful. It can take seemingly forever to come to the forefront and, when it does, it can burst out of control in mere moments. It’s messy, it’s morally dubious at times, and it may or may not materially change the conditions that gave rise to it in the first place. But it happens and sometimes it simply has to. For oppression gives birth to the seeds of its own destruction.

The Reeds screened as part of TIFF 2023, which runs from September 7 to 17.

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