The Wild Pear Tree

 

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Ceylan's latest has the scope of a vast classic novel but as film it may be too demanding.

 
Wild Pear Tree, The

 

Set in Turkey, the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan are both huge and highly ambitious - and increasingly so as time goes on (this latest piece of his lasts for more than three hours and is his longest yet). It is a difficult combination to carry off, magnificent when it works (as it did triumphantly in 2011's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) but often, as here, deeply challenging. By now his films display a quiet mastery of cinema and his partnership with the photographer Gökhan Tiryáki continues to be richly rewarding.

 

Indeed, all of Ceylan's qualities are to the fore in the early stages of The Wild Pear Tree. It is as though life itself is unfolding before us as a young would-be author, Sinan Kanasu (Aydin Dogu Demirkol), returns after graduating from university to his village. This place is the subject of the ambitious set of essays assembled in his as yet unpublished first book - but that does not mean that he has a love for his birthplace or for the people in it who are living what he sees as restricted lives. In particular, he is critical of his father Idris (Murat Cemcir), a teacher nearing retirement and now a rash gambler whose family (wife and daughter in addition to Sinan) suffer in consequence. Idris is also a dreamer who spends his weekends digging a well in the countryside in the illusory hope of finding water there.

 

This is material with a great deal of potential and, while it extends to scenes showing Sinan's local endeavours to raise funds in order to publish his book, the father/son relationship lies at its core. The quality of the piece is all the greater because the screenplay brings out compellingly all the contradictions to be found in the main characters (Sinan has drive but is also immature and self-centred enough not to be a standard hero figure, while the father is disillusioned as well as foolish and can be seen in more than one light). However, Ceylan seems to be intent on presenting a wider portrait as though he must capture all human life here in case he does not live to make another film (apparently, the first version of this work lasted almost five hours until Ceylan cut it eliminating some of the villagers).

 

Even as it is, this approach lets in several digressions including long discussions about authors and their work and a detailed debate on differing interpretations of the Koran and to what extent its texts allow for change. This may have value, but it would work much better on the printed page allowing the reader time to pause and reflect. On screen, it seems formidably intellectual and such scenes, adding significantly to the film's length, weigh it down. Far more effective is an early scene featuring a former girlfriend of Sinan's (Hazar Ergüçlü), but she does not reappear. There are too occasional dream sequences that fit uneasily into the whole. However, one finds much to admire in The Wild Pear Tree yet it calls for intrepid viewers and, as it stands, it seems to contain a smaller intimate drama undercut rather than enhanced by the breadth of the social setting in which it is placed.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Aydin Dogu Demirkol, Murat Cemcir, Bennu Yildirimlar, Hazar Ergüçlü, Serkan Keskin, Kubilay Tuncer, Tamer Levent, Akin Aksu, Öner Erkan, Ahmet Rifat Sungar, Kadir Çermik, Özay Fecht, Asena Keskinci, Ercüment Balakoglu.

 

Dir Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Pro Zeynep Özbatur Atakan, Screenplay Akin Aksu, Ebru Ceylan and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ph Gökhan Tiryaki, Art Dir Meral Aktan, Ed Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Costumes Seicen Demet Kadizade.

 

Zeyno Film/Memento Films Production/Film i Vast/Chimney Pot/ARTE France Cinéma-New Wave Films.
188 mins. Turkey/France/Germany. 2018. Rel: 30 November 2018. Cert. 15.