Nuri Bilge Ceylan/ Turkey/ 2018/ 188 mins
@Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 7 Dec 2018
Fresh from the Palme d’Or success of his previous film Winter Sleep, Turkish arthouse darling Nuri Bilge Ceylan returns with another dissection of the intellectual male ego, stretched to a tectonic timescale. In The Wild Pear Tree, Ceylan switches his attention from middle-aged bitterness, to youthful pretension.
Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) is a university graduate with literary aspirations, who returns to his home village near Çanakkale. He aims to raise the necessary funds to publish his ‘quirky meta-novel’, ‘The Wild Pear Tree,’ but he finds resistance at every turn, not to mention the debts of his gambling-addicted father Idris (Murat Cemcir).
If this sounds like a simple story to cocoon in a daunting three-hours, you would be right. Ceylan’s approach is dense and discursive, using Sinan’s various encounters to repeatedly examine the same themes; youth against experience, progress against tradition, and the familiar trope of a pretentious intellectual causing friction on returning home. Sinan thinks he has the soul of a poet, but has the face of a boxer and the pugnacious attitude to match. It’s not long before his disdain and thinly-veiled sense of superiority arise in every conversation; whether with his father, his long-suffering mother Aruman (Bennu Yildirimlar), or various residents.
The best of these is with local writer Suleyman (Serkan Keskin). Sinan pesters the author for career advice, yet can’t suppress his envy of the older man’s success, or his scorn for his work. This scene is a sheer delight as the antagonism simmers in the respectable environs of a bookshop, before erupting in the windswept harbour. Ceylan’s passion for discourse often gets the best of him however. A twenty-minute discussion on the nature of faith and morality between Sinan and two young Imams may have been better left for another film, with its thematic connection to the rest of the story tangential at best.
While beautifully acted at all times, The Wild Pear Tree suffers from its repetitive structure, and arguably from its central protagonist. Sinan is just as much a pompous arse as Aydın from Winter Sleep, but far more one-note. He trudges from one heated debate to another, propelled by his own frustration and entitlement, and never leaves this mode. Despite the occasional sense of weariness this causes, Ceylan will find a spark of conversation, or even just a gorgeous shot that will raise interest again. It lacks the conversational variety of Winter Sleep, and isn’t quite as visually ravishing as its predecessor or 2011’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, but this is unmistakably the work of a director unafraid to stick rigidly to his own methods. Like its central character, it tries the patience, but there’s both a lyricism and a archetypal central tension in its prodigal son narrative that ultimately wins out.