The latest film from Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the Turkish director behind Palme d’Or winner ‘Winter Sleep’, tells the story of Sinan, a young graduate returning home and trying to find his place in the world. Sinan is desperate to get his book published, in need of financial support but hampered by the debts his father owes to everyone in town.
The problems that modern Turkey is facing act as an undercurrent to the story, with references to riots, police brutality and religion, all acting as recurring themes throughout. Sinan is unsure of what he wants. Of course he wishes to be published, but outside of that his options appear limited. It looks like he will either become a teacher or join the police, neither of which appeals to him. He’s a young man with his whole future ahead of him, trapped by the lifestyle he was born into, and unsatisfied with his prospects.
Sinan’s family life is no piece of cake either. His father, Idris, not only owes money to everyone he knows, but appears to still suffer with an addiction to gambling; an addiction that is affecting his children, and indeed his wife, who does all she can to remain loyal to the man she still loves in spite of his many flaws. At the heart of all this is a young man who feels lost, and it’s his journey of self-discovery that we see unfold in Ceylan’s 188 minute character study.
This is an interesting story with a lot of important questions being asked, even if it’s not necessarily Ceylan’s best work. Sinan’s situation is one that many people can relate to. In your early twenties and post-graduation state, you are left with the terrifying prospect of having to decide what to do with your life. It’s a daunting thought, and one that many have suffered with. We realise that the world isn’t kind or easy, and that perhaps our dreams aren’t as achievable as we once thought. Of course, Sinan’s situation is a little different, but these are all difficulties millions have experienced, and there is a high chance that many viewers will find something to sympathise with here.
The difficulties of life in Turkey act as an ever-present concern for all those living in Çanakkale, the small city in which the film is set. These issues are only ever subtly hinted at when necessary, never detracting away from the character arc at the heart of the story. The film’s tone is exceptionally well-balanced.
While the pacing as a whole is very well done, it could be argued that the film overstays its welcome. This length is nothing new for Ceylan, but it’s what you do with those minutes that defines their worth, and while this isn’t a problem ‘Winter Sleep’ suffered from, one could say that his latest film does exceed its limits at times. The film is not without scenes or sequences that feel unnecessary and add little to the ongoing narrative. Admittedly, these are few and far between, but Ceylan’s previous films didn’t have the same problem. ‘The Wild Pear Tree’ does have an interesting narrative and there is no denying that it all builds to a satisfying conclusion, but it certainly takes far too long getting there.
The film lacks an imposing score, adding to its realistic approach, simply using the same piece of music by Bach frequently throughout. While this creative decision is very effective at first, it eventually feels overused; lessening any impact it previously had on the audience. It’s an innovative idea that feels played out by the film’s finale.
The film’s central performance from Doğu Demirkol is undoubtedly its biggest strength. The inexperienced actor is able to bring Sinan to life with ease. His struggles feel real and his interactions plausible. It’s a quiet yet wonderful piece of acting, particularly when you consider that Sinan isn’t a necessarily likeable character. Sure, at times, it’s fairly easy to sympathise with him. He’s not in a good situation and no-one around seems likely to show him support. However, he is oftentimes rude to those around him, ignorant of their own personal situations, and of the real world in which he lives. He’s a twenty-something that thinks he knows best, and this is a trait that appears to show in his writing. We’ve all been that person before, but he doesn’t seem to learn too much throughout this particularly long film. He does indeed seem a different person by the end, but the man we see as late as 150 minutes into the picture doesn’t appear to have changed much from the one we see at the beginning.
It’s not Sinan’s negative aspects that are the problem. We’ve all been there, and we can all understand his struggles. The issue is that Sinan doesn’t appear to make any significant progress for the vast majority of what is already an overlong picture, and by the time he does appear to grow and learn, it’s far too late to expect the audience to feel anything. Spending this much time with a character who makes little progress throughout is a big ask of any audience, and it may be one of the biggest reasons the film will fail to find viewers outside of those cult fans of the director’s previous works.
‘The Wild Pear Tree’ is a very well-constructed film. It moves at a nice pace, and features wonderful long scenes in which characters exchange realistic and engaging dialogue, sharing moments that feel extremely real and typically human (one scene in a library is a clear highlight). It’s a film that asks a lot of questions about the country while telling an interesting character-driven story, featuring a relatable protagonist, brought to life with a superb performance. However, Ceylan’s ambitious length feels far less worthwhile this time around, and spending that much time with an unsympathetic character may feel like a big ask for some people. It’s certainly an interesting film, but one wonders during the closing minutes whether you every really cared where Sinan ended up.
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