Comparing any film maker to Andrei Tarkovsky always seems like very risky business. The Russian director is considered to be the greatest poet that cinema ever saw, but if I was to extend this metaphor, then Nuri Bilge Ceylan is easily one of the best novelists in this medium. His latest film, Wild Pear Tree, exhibits his ability to construct the extremely complex and ambiguous characters, at the same time maintaining a unique and visionary style.
In the opening scene we meet Sinian Karasu (Dogu Demirkol) contemplating the sea from his seat in a café. He is a young nihilistic writer who just graduated from the university. The future ahead of him is uncertain – he could become teacher and end up in some remote village, or join the army like many of his colleagues. “Sure, education is great, but this is Turkey” he hears in one of the scenes. Before the final choice he returns to his village, to learn that his family is in debt due to his father’s gambling. In him Sinian can see his own alternative future of a disappointing wreck, failed father and husband figure, and an object of jokes and abuse in the local community.
Sinian is also not necessarily nostalgic about his home – when talking on the phone he says: “If I were a dictator I’d drop an atom bomb on this city”. Again, in one of the final conversations he admits: “I don’t mind nature and animals, but I don’t like people” – a confession far from being surprising.
In the middle of the film we hear him describe his first book, the eponymous Wild Pear Tree, as “a quirky auto fiction meta-novel” which attempts to capture “the cultural life” of his home village. “What does it even mean?” one might be inclined to ask. There is an air of pretentiousness around the protagonist, but the film does not really attempt to present him in the most flattering way. In the same dialogue Sinian lectures an accomplished writer saying that “It’s impossible to sum up novels in a single sentence”.
The Turkish director has already exhibited his passion for Russian literature in the earlier Winter Sleep which riffs on Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. In the similar vein, Ceylan’s Wild Pear Tree feels like a novel akin in its complexity to the works of Tolstoy. It touches on so many topics that it is hard to pin down its main message. Yet, rather than a flaw, its meandering structure is the strongest side of Wild Pear Tree.
The film manages to create a microcosm of characters, all of them in a sense revolting, spoiled or suffering. From the ending credits one can learn that the film used quotes from Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, and it isn’t really any kind of a shocker. Ceylan portrays the rural society in which Sinian’s disillusioned generation clashes with a similarly disillusioned generation of his father. The topics of democracy, religion, gender or career are just a few of many touched upon in this dense portrait of contemporary Turkey. At the heart of it sits the poverty-stricken family of Karasu’s.
During its three-hour run the film constantly manages to surprise and add more layers to the story. It is constructed almost solely on well written and intellectually challenging dialogues. Although sometimes feeling too didactic, they correspond well with the contrarian nature of the protagonist.
Wild Pear Tree never feels too claustrophobic due to Ceylan’s attention to nature, an omniscient observer of the events unrolling on the screen. And although the Turkish director avoids Tarkovsky’s symbolism, he does show a similar command in terms of film language. His cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki, employs any visual device possible: long takes, long shots, playful use of depth-of-field, pans, tracking shots, zoom-ins. Despite that the film never feels flashy or self-indulgent. Every trick used by Ceylan seems to serve its purpose of obscuring and manipulating the viewer’s perception of the world. It is also meditative and slow, but at no point does it start to bore. If the film wasn’t visionary enough for those reasons, there are also rare instances of dream sequences again reminiscent of Tarkovsky’s works such as Mirror or Nostalgia.
Wild Pear Tree is one of the most elaborate father-son relationships I’ve ever seen on the big screen. It focuses on the fatherly love hidden so deep that the protagonist (and hence the viewer) does not even bother to look for it. It happens so since the person spiritually closest to Sinian is also the one who is the least accessible. Ceylan’s film is verbose and grand in its ambitions. It’s a colossus I expected to collapse any minute, but to my surprise it never did. Wild Pear Tree is a film, which, although over three hours long, is one of the most exciting titles that hit the screens this year.
Image source: IMDB