Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan returns with another slow-burning epic. Info
This decade, Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has staked his claim on searing three-hour epic-length Chekhovian works like 2014's Palme d'Or winner Winter Sleep, which had its suitably seasonal Madison premiere at Cinematheque in 2015. Forging ahead in the restless spirit of former films set in contemporary Turkey, The Wild Pear Tree (2018) is more deeply driven by lyrical, existential dialogue than imagery in a progressive shift for Ceylan since his atmospheric mystery Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Wisconsin Film Festival 2012).
Here, Ceylan's focus on an aspiring young writer seems to mirror the aesthetic, as recent college graduate Sinan Karasu (Aydin Doğu Demirkol) reluctantly returns to his childhood home in the village of Çan. Wrestling with self-doubt as an academic, an uncertain future in teaching or military service, and his father Idris (Murat Cemcir)'s gambling debts hanging over his provincial family, Sinan ambitiously bets on publishing his self-described "quirky auto-fiction meta-novel," which contains his scrutinies of local life and culture in the Çanakkale province.
Ceylan nourishes The Wild Pear Tree's intrigue through the various obstructions Sinan must face in this pursuit, both self-imposed and ubiquitous, and character psychology that seesaws between personal and familial favor. The film intelligently and often entertainingly presents the intersection of sobering philosophical debate and comically tragic undertones in a series of demoralizing tête-à-têtes with the locals, as Sinan's tendency to provoke inevitably steers the initially auspicious encounters towards awkward antagonism.
But this is really only a sliver of the demonstration of Ceylan's mastery as a filmmaker and storyteller over 188 minutes, as he triumphantly engages through the loquacious, slow-burning narrative while also delicately establishing a meditative pastoral of golden autumn landscapes and visually nodding toward surrealistic doom. Occasionally, these approaches and moods coexist in the same sequence, as with The Wild Pear Tree's most haunting meeting between Sinan and his one-time crush, Hatice (Hazar Ergüçlü). —Grant Phipps