Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan already won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2014 with his talky epic "Winter Sleep," a shocking win if you ask me since that film is considered one of his weaker entries. Me? I'll always love "Once Upon A Time In Anatolia" a meditative but thoroughly gripping murder-mystery that very much feels like the more minimalist and, almost, equally brilliant counterpart to David Fincher's "Zodiac."
Alas, here were are, the last edition of the Cannes Film Festival has been foregone for 6 months now, but maybe the reason why we haven't heard so much about “The Wild Pear Tree," Ceylan's latest oeuvre, is because it was screened on the last day of the festival, as a late-minute addition. Which is also why I didn't file anything on it as the next day I was on a plane back home.
The trailer for “The Wild Pear Tree” is more a series of beautiful images and wise words that show just how visually stunning and philosphical Ceylan's latest is. Its rambling, episodic story of aspiring writer Sinan (Aydin Doğu Demirkol) returning to his native village in rural Turkey after having completed his studies abroad, is more about the dynamic between father and son. Sinan's return to his hometown has him becoming involved and overwhelmed by his father, Idris (excellent Murat Cemcir), a gambling addict up to his knees in debt.
The film is filled with conversation and I found the first and third hour to be most gripping. It's very hard to really grasp this film without pondering on it, a reflection of its nuances is a must. There's a great conversation that happens mid-way through that has Sinan, an imam and a mutual friend debating about Islam and if it's possible to incorporate and adapt it to modern morals and values. It's a fascinating conversation that is no doubt a hot-button topic in Turkey, and many other middle-eastern countries.
Another conversation revolves around Sinan meeting up with a "lost love," former classmate Hatice (Hazar Ergüçlü), who resents the notion that she might have made a mistake staying with her parents. You can tell Sinan and this lovely young woman are infatuated with each other, but their love cannot be shown nor is it expressed. She was forced to adhere to her family's customs and find a more religious man, Sinan was left on the side refusing to adhere to conventional Islamic religiosity.
Lots of political and religious resonance is felt in "The Wild Pear Tree." That's the thing about it, if you're familiar with Turkish politics this feels very much like a state of the union address from Ceylan.
It's heady stuff from him. The writer-director is trying to give us a film driven by political landscapes, and astonishingly complex dialogue that is driven by philosophy, and religious traditions. The film does feel very "novelistic," and I think of it as a sort of rambling plunge into the more philosophical and epic works of literature, those that revolved around a single character. There's also this incredible emotional payoff near its end that a THR review aptly called "a transcendental moment so beautiful in its simplicity that the previous three hours of seriousness appear to melt away" and that "it's is worth every last minute."
Suffice to say, I did really like it, it's just very hard to grasp a 188-minute philosophical rumination on rural Turkey and then head out on a 14-hour flight just a few hours later. The Cinema Guild will open “The Wild Pear Tree” at New York City’s Film Forum on January 30, it will slightly expand across the country after that.