The Wild Pear Tree Review
Anyone looking for a light-hearted, compact drama to while away a cold winter's evening are unlikely to strike gold with many of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films. 2011’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia stretched beyond the two and a half hour mark, Palme d’Or winner, Winter Sleep, ran comfortably over three hours and his new film, The Wild Pear Tree, is another 180 minute plus epic. His work is often novelistic in length and form and that finds the ideal partner in a story about a writer desperate to find a way to publish his first book.
The leisurely pacing, long takes and heavy dialogue are the hallmark of almost any Ceylan film, typically encompassing regional and national politics, philosophy and the existential concerns of his characters and modern day Turkey. Those familiar with his previous efforts will be anticipating more of the same, and the director doesn’t disappoint in delivering what seems to be his most autobiographical film to date.
Sinan (Aydin Dogu Demirkol) returns home from college to his small town in the knowledge that finding a way back out to pursue his own path as an author will not come easy. Within minutes of stepping off the coach he is reminded of the mounting gambling debts being run up by his school teacher father Idris (Murat Cemcir). Like most people who live there his mother, Asuman (Bennu Yildirimlar), is resigned to her fate and the limited boundaries that come with life in their Canakkale village.
It’s a theme crystallised further soon after Sinan’s return, when he bumps into Hatice (Hazar Ergüçlü), a female friend from his school days now wearing a headscarf and being readied to marry a local, older jeweller. As she hides behind a large tree to enjoy a quick cigarette in secret with Sinan away from her family, we learn her dreams of education have been sacrificed in favour of meeting family expectation. They share a brief moment of intimacy but Hatice is quickly called back to the fold of her family and a life of duty.
The youthful arrogance of Sinan refuses to accept anything short of a career as an author. He’s desperate to publish his first book, but financing it without the support of the local writing establishment seems almost impossible. Any attempts at gaining sponsorship are undermined by his inability to curb his own tongue when it matters most. The only way to get the work into print is through an act of pure selfishness that allows him to achieve his aims, although barely anyone seems to notice it even exists.
By following the miniature of Sinan’s search for a place in the world post college, Ceylan’s heavy dialogue exchanges flow through discussion about Islam, Turkish literature, family tensions and the turbulent state of national politics. Phone calls to an old college friend who has joined the riot police reveals his delight in attacking left-leaning demonstrators. News stories play in the background to highlight the sacking of thousands of teachers as part of a state-led backlash against the failed coup of President Erdogan. Even following in the modest footsteps of his father seems out of reach for Sinan.
Ceylan somehow makes light work of the hefty 188 minutes his film is up on screen, and yet, The Wild Pear Tree is as dense as anything he has done in the past and just as painterly. His ongoing working relationship with DoP Gökhan Tiryaki continues to reap beautiful rewards, and the stunning wide long shots place the small frames of the characters underneath the weighty expanse of the world around them. There is a growing sense of isolation placed upon Sinan as he steadfastly refuses to realise that he needs to adapt to the world around him, as it will never fully bend to his will.
This wordy and sprawling epic finally reaches a conclusion that allows the audience to choose the ending they believe to be most fitting. The conclusion of the conflict between a younger and older generation seen primarily through Sinan’s relationship with his father, and various other encounters around the town, feels both transcendent and melancholic. Both feel equally as fitting. Just like the many sacrifices that have to be given to sustain creativity, Sinan is starting to realise the same rules apply when it comes to life.
The Wild Pear Tree opens in select UK cinemas on November 30th 2018.