Writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan follows up his 2014 Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep with another lengthy drama set in rural Turkey. And as with his previous film, The Wild Pear Tree gives us a protagonist who considers himself the intellectual and moral superior of the residents of a town he wishes to “drop an atom bomb on.”
Having finished college and completed his first novel, Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) returns to his home village, near the port of Çanakkale, home to both the world’s largest preserved battlefield at Gallipoli and the ancient city of Troy. The residents take great pride in hosting such historically significant attractions, but Sinan has little but contempt for the place of his birth, seeing the locals as small-minded bumpkins. He’s forced however to suck up to the town’s bigwigs, hoping one of them will finance the publishing of his novel, but is largely met with hostility due to his inability to talk to anyone without rubbing them up the wrong way with his air of intellectual supremacy.
Much of the film focusses on Sinan’s increasingly estranged relationship with his father, Idris (Murat Cemcir), a primary school teacher whose gambling addiction has led to him making several enemies in town, not to mention plunging the family home into darkness when he can’t pay the electricity bill. This gives Sinan a chance to affect a moral superiority over his wayward father, but we get the sense that the young man is consumed with a jealousy of his father’s ability to be happy with his lot. In spite of his failings, Idris has a secure job and a loving wife, two things Sinan, like so many young men of his generation, doubts he may ever possess.
As with Winter Sleep, The Wild Pear Tree plays out in a series of largely passive aggressive conversations, the subjects of which range from such heady topics as classism, religion and philosophy to more mundane, albeit more practical debates like the best way to retrieve a bucket from a well or get a couch up a flight of stairs. Ceylan’s setting and its people feel so lived in that at times we feel like a child tugging at the sleeve of a parent who stopped to talk to a neighbour while out for a walk, references to local dramas we aren’t privy to dropped into the middle of heated debates.
Some of the conversations seem to stretch on endlessly, but they’re never less than compelling. Ceylan’s film is a Wrestlemania for lovers of great dialogue, offering us a card packed with riveting bouts between actors who must truly cherish the gift of such substantial material. We’re treated to one meaty scene after another, but perhaps the highlight is a heated discussion/argument between Sinan and a successful author (Serkan Keskin) whose triumphs Sinan clearly resents.
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While Ceylan’s main strength is his dialogue, and as you spend so much of The Wild Pear Tree’s running time reading its subtitles if you aren’t a Turkish speaker, it can be easy to overlook how visually splendid his film is. As with Winter Sleep, we’re treated to the sort of scenic backdrop most of us dream of holidaying in, which makes its protagonist’s scorn for his home seem all the more churlish. Before viewing, I had read that Ceylan’s film contains an unbroken 20 minute tracking shot, but I was so consumed by the drama that such technical nuances eluded me on this watch.
While The Wild Pear Tree is the most dialogue heavy movie you’re likely to see in 2019, it’s ultimately a film about unspoken truths between a father and son, neither of whom truly understand the other, but whose bond proves stronger than the ropes that continually fail to haul buckets from wells and couches up stairs.
The Wild Pear Tree
4 ½ stars out of 5
Directed by:Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Starring:Dogu Demirkol, Murat Cemcir, Bennu Yildirimlar, Hazar Ergüçlü, Serkan Keskin