The Wild Pear Tree is another towering cinematic experience from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The story of a father and son in conflict, it grapples with life’s big themes and the burden of family relationships.
Ceylan’s films have the depth and richness of great literature, but he is equally adept at crafting transcendent cinematic moments on the big screen. Take for instance an early scene in The Wild Pear Tree, where a gust of wind blows a young woman’s long hair all over the place. The camera cuts to a side profile medium close-up, focusing on her face as black locks billow all around her, as if they’ve become animated like vipers on the head of the Medusa.
What had been until then a rather stilted conversation between a man and a woman is transformed into a moment of sensuality and eroticism, but also symbolises the man’s view of women as a threat or something to be conquered. Nothing heavy happens between the pair, of course. Well, they kiss, but she bites his lip in anger and then she’s called away by her mum, who is picking walnuts from trees in a nearby field.
Ceylan has a knack for making bad weather feel like a supernatural force in the universe, as if his seer-like imagination and the camera is a magical device used to channel and communicate with the natural world and fleetingly reveals universal truths. In Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, the wild winds of the steppe symbolised the dark moods and trajectories going on in the plot – the search for a dead body. In Winter Sleep, the heavy snowfall and frozen landscapes represented a man’s closed off heart and intellectual arrogance.
The Wild Pear Tree is very much a companion piece to his 2014 Palme d’Or-winning film, in that it’s also about an arrogant sod, though this time it’s a recent university graduate and writer who has a very complicated relationship with his middle-aged father. The landscapes, here, teeter between beguiling and stifling, mirroring the central character’s love-hate, passive-aggressive emotions regarding his surroundings.
Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) returns home after graduating from university in a bit of a bind. He doesn’t like his home village and despises his old man, a primary-school teacher with a consuming gambling addiction and a mountain of debts. Their relationship is one of generational conflict, but also very much a child’s disappointment in whom he once believed to be a fine man and mentor. The father, Idris (Murat Cemcir), clowns around, masking his issues, which only provokes Sinan’s contempt even more.
At 188 minutes and with Ceylan being one of the great masters of slow cinema, the road to the finishing line is long and meandering, but the emotional payoff is monumental and haunting in ways so few films can ever hope to achieve. Our patience is certainly rewarded. As Sinan and his dad edge towards individual epiphanies and a kind of reconciliation, Ceylan plays around with a series of images which feel like competing solutions to the drama, lending closing scenes a pronounced dreamlike aura or achieving the effect of meta-fiction.
It doesn’t feel disruptive at all, because it’s been teased since the start, more or less. Yet The Wild Pear Tree isn’t a showy or boldly radical work, this is still Ceylan’s brand of poetic landscapes and intimate dramas, but it does represent an intriguing artistic progression, so any claims of ‘more of the same’ are redundant.
The 71st Cannes Film Festival takes place from 8-19 May.
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn