Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan has never seemed interested in keeping his films up to speed with a fast-paced world. He invites deep introspection from his audience, and seems content to let those with shorter attention spans look elsewhere for more immediately gratifying entertainment. His latest creation, quite characteristically, takes over three hours to tell a story that appears relatively simple on its surface, and this apparent and drawn-out simplicity might easily turn off more easily-distracted viewers. But those who do have patience for meandering character studies and who don’t mind art that requires attentive work will find plenty of rewards here, including a gut-wrenching final moment that is worth the price of admission and the length of the journey.
This tale of young, recently graduated, and short-fused Sinan (Aydin Doğu Demirkol) follows a classic template: An aspiring artist returns home, observing a place and people he’s known for years with new eyes. Sinan has also come hoping to raise enough cash to publish his first novel (which just happens to have the same title as the film itself). His father (Murat Cemcirz) has gambled away his family’s money, and his mother (Bennu Yildirimlar) seems resigned to a life free of any luxuries they once enjoyed. As Sinan stumbles through encounters with his parents and other inhabitants of this hometown he so desperately wants to escape, these exchanges become refrains of regret, forlorn fugues of disappointed people searching for meaning. Though these quotidien conversations might at times feel laborious, the tedium adds to the characters’ richly-drawn personalities.
The point of Sinan’s quest is its lack of a point. Ceylan uses lulls and rambling scenes, interrupted at times with surprising spikes of humor or hubris, to build a uniquely immersive experience. The true power of the proceedings comes not through any plot innovations, but through the unexpectedly steady meditative state into which this languid film invites its audience. By the halfway point, Sinan’s drifting becomes the film’s drifting, which becomes the audience’s drifting, and somehow this drifting wavers compellingly between aimlessly boring wandering and achingly beautiful whimsy. Sinan’s frustrations and feistiness becomes the audience’s own, as we sink more deeply into Sinan’s boredom and broken dreams.
Unrelenting melancholy can be a tricky mood for a film to sustain for a few scenes, let alone three hours, but Ceylan’s unhurried commitment to Sinan’s slow transformation anchors even the gloomiest moments in meaningful gravity. There’s an exquisitely filmed reunion with one of Sinan’s ex-girlfriends, a hilariously awkward and ultimately explosive encounter with a more seasoned local author, a deeply philosophical conversation with two imams, one extremely traditional, the other more open to change. And, along the way, there are multiple bursts of conflict between Sinan and his father, which eventually become the guideposts that lead to the film’s quietly powerful final statement, one that feels simultaneously specific to these characters as well as representative of an entire country in soul-searching flux.
The Wild Pear Tree presents a true slice of life, complete with long stretches of boredom (an experience we seem to try to avoid at all costs these days) and random threads that refuse to pay off in the ways we might wish. And, instead of feeling like too much work, it ends up feeling like necessary work. In a time when quick fixes and superficial emotional release are the most popular items on the menu, the film invites its audience to attempt something radical. It insists that monotony is an integral part of the human journey, that melancholy is a state not to avoid but to explore, and that the simple connections we make with others, both the awesome and the awkward, slowly and painfully shape who we are and who we might become, even when we fear nothing is actually happening.