Cast: Dogu Demirkol, Murat Cemcir, Bennu Yildirimlar, Hazar Ergüçlü, Serkan Keskin, Tamer Levent
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Running time: 3 hours 8 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
There’s a scene near the beginning of Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree where the film’s central protagonist, disillusioned writer Sinan (Dogu Demirkol) stumbles upon an old crush (a sublime Hazar Ergüçlü) while strolling past a massive tree. The scene plays out casually; allowing the passive-aggressive dialogue between these two people with a shared history to flow with the rhythms of a realistic conversation. The role of language has always been important in Ceylan’s films, but his use of elegiac visuals (at one point, the camera even pulls away to bask in the sunlit leaves softly rustling in the wind), de-emphasizes narrative structure; highlighting how language can form the basis for personal, political, and moral ideals.
Ceylan has crafted talky anti-narratives before in films like Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and Winter Sleep, and The Wild Pear Tree continues in this tradition by being less a coming-of-age story concerning a young writer and more about how lives are molded by time. Centering on Sinan’s aimless intellectual (who comes across like the Turkish version of Llewyn Davis from the Coen Brothers’s Inside Llewyn Davis), as he returns to his hometown after graduating from college, the film initially situates itself as a commentary about young ideals pitted against old world values. This includes the strained relationship he has with his father Idris (Murat Cemcir), who harbors an addiction to horse betting. With a degree in Literature and a newly finished novel (described as a genre-less “meta autobiography”) that he hopes to publish, Sinan is gradually revealed to be a self-involved bore, and this is a crucial point. Whereas a character like Llewyn Davis was presented as a romantic cynic, Sinan’s idealism stems from the naiveté of youth, and yet, his anger remains at least somewhat sympathetic.
As Sinan flounders (even bombing a teacher’s exam that may have secured him a job somewhere in the east), the prickly relationship between him and his father rises to the surface. Meanwhile, his mother (Bennu Yildirimlar) seems to berate Idris for his irresponsible behavior while also holding onto her romanticized past memories of him. However, the family drama here is only part of Ceylan’s ultimate aim; as the film takes digressions involving politics, religion, and literature where Sinan finds himself wrapped up in lengthy conversations with old friends, acquaintances, and in one extended scene, a famous local writer (Serkan Keskin). In a way, the film’s stylistic flourishes—long takes, tracking shots, jarring jump cuts—often detach us from Sinan’s endless moaning; luxuriating in the open vistas and sun-kissed landscapes which he takes for granted.
The Wild Pear Tree is loose and meandering, but never gratuitous. One could reduce the thematic message down to the role of male ancestry and which sins are inherited from father to son and which ones are learned, but that would assume the film is primarily about Sinan’s coming-of-age. There are allusions to political upheaval in Turkey (represented most clearly during a phone conversation Sinan has with a friend in which they laugh about the beating of a student protester) as well as how the tourist industry has affected the economy, which gives the film a broader contextual scope. The density of the conversations here (both in terms of content and how long Ceylan allows them to transpire) and the impressionistic visuals lend The Wild Pear Tree a powerfully cumulative effect. Therefore, the film’s final image can be read in multiple ways— etched by melancholy, despair, and hope— landing with indelible force because we have spent so much time with these characters. Sinan’s morose worldview, too, comes into greater focus. By the end, even he seems haunted and touched by the passage of time.