THE WILD PEAR TREE/ AHLAT AGACI, Turkey, 2018. Starring Dogu Demirkol, Murat Cemcir, Bennu Yildrimlar. Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. 188 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language).
A vivid picture of life in a contemporary Turkish city.
Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has become a significant world director since 1997, his succession of films winning awards and nominations. In many ways, he is the cinema face of Turkey to the world.
On the other hand, his films are an acquired taste, well-respected at film festivals the world over, gaining release at arthouse cinemas. The Wild Pear Tree is a worthy successor to his previous films.
For an audience deciding whether to see the film, it is probably important to know that it runs for 188 minutes, a long time without a break, requiring constant attention and audiences ready for such concentration.
The director trained in photography and this is evident in the beauty of this film, the capturing of landscapes in bright colour, characters moving in the landscapes, the contrast with close-ups, especially for conversations, many very long takes during the conversations, contrasting then with rapid editing for interactions. And then the film moves towards winter, fog and darkness.
The narrative concerns a young man, Sinan, who has completed his studies and returns home, having to do a final exam for a position as a primary school teacher. He has written a memoir and is eager for it to be printed, especially in his hometown. It turns out that he is a somewhat bitter young man, repressing his angers, especially at his father who is a schoolteacher but has become an inveterate gambler, losing his house, always with a furtive and shifty look. Sinan says about himself that it is strange for writer but he does not like other people.
The narrative line is fairly basic, Sinan making connections back home with family and friends, going to his exam, having a discussion with a popular novelist, encounters with two young imams, the publication of his book and the consequences.
But the film is also strong on verbal communication. In fact, the action frequently slows down the action, intense conversations, about love and ambitions with his former girlfriend in the town, a firm call with a friend who has become a policeman, a visit to the mayor to ask for financial subsidy for his book, the challenge to the novelist and discussions about what makes great fiction, very long conversation most at some depth about religion, belief, morality and responsibility, interpretation of the Koran, with the two imams. There are also long conversations both with his mother and with his father.
However, the director brings most of the conversations alive by having movement throughout, Sinan walking throughout the countryside, through the town on his phone, in a bookshop, then the street, then across a bridge with the novelist, travelling on the road with the imams. This means that while the content is often challenging, the audience can move with it because the action is not static, but moving, enhanced by the background and the scenery.
As with all the films by the director, personal relationships are most significant. While we have the portrait of the discontented young man, his aggressiveness, his sympathy for his mother, trying to understand and appreciate his father despite his disgust and resentment about the gambling, there are interesting moments with supporting characters, a crusty grandfather, another grandfather who is an imam, a bookseller, neighbours…
Which means then that the audiences had a long immersion into the Turkish countryside, exposure to Turkish characters and their issues, and appreciation of particular questions as well as the universal aspects of human nature. And, after the three hours, a glimpse of a moment of despair, a glimpse of the moment of hope.
Sharmill Released December 26th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.