If you try and define modern cinema from Turkey, you simply cannot avoid mentioning the body of work of director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. His eighth feature, which competed in for the Palm d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, was inspired by a story of a father and son who lived near Ceylan’s home town. The son, Akin Aksu, also co-wrote the script for the film, which, typical of Ceylan’s work, presents an intersection of a person’s biography and the current state of his home country. To be precise, “The Wild Pear Tree” combines the rich visual beauty while telling a story of people suffering from a lack of direction in their lives, thus seeming lost and even quite desperate.
Before his final exams as a teacher, Sinan (Aydin Doğu Demirkol) returns to Çan, his hometown, and to his parents. Even though his studies are about to come to an end, the young man is quite eager to find other directions in his life, most significantly his writing career since he has finished a “quiry auto-fiction meta-novel”, as he calls it, about his life, his family and his origin, but no one is interested in funding him. At the same time he has to face the daily quarrels within his family with his father İdris (Murat Cemcir), a teacher close to retirement, gambling away what little money the family has, resulting in frequent arguments between him and his mother (Bennu Yıldırımlar).
To escape this tiring routine, Sinan wanders the small town and its surroundings, meeting up with classmates, an old flame of his and other people, for example the town’s major, always with the objective to secure financing for his book. As the situation at home gets worse and with no finances in sight, Sinan also grows increasingly frustrated with what he perceives as backwardness in his home town. Finally, it comes to a devastating argument with his father.
After his 2014 feature “Winter Sleep”, “The Wild Pear Tree” is one of the longest features made by the Turkish director with a running time of 188 minutes in total. While you might hesitate to use the label of “slow cinema”, with regards to the pace of the film or its use of long takes, there are certainly valid indicators for that particular brand of cinema. At the same time, you have to stress Ceylan does use his time wisely, for the duration of a scene, often including Sinan’s lengthy conversations with other people about his book, religion, family and the dichotomy of rural and urban life, reflecting the state of a character searching for some kind of direction.
However, “The Wild Pear Tree” does not qualify as a “coming-of-age” story, as its main character cannot be grasped that easily. Aydin Doğu Demirkol, who had not acted in a film before, plays a character who is at a loss, searching for something to hold on to while also, paradoxically neglecting anything to touch him, disguising his anxiety behind the image of the writer who hates people, as he tells his mother. While his family always seems to be on the brink of disintegration, Sinan resorts to the position of the observer, an omniscient narrator who bitterly comments on the shortcomings of others or their vices, or at least this is the way Sinan interprets it.
Within the context of the setting, there seems to be a similar paradox at work. The frequent image of the town of Çan, its inconclusive landscape of industrial chimneys and small houses interrupted only by the a collection of large quarries and fields outside its town limits, seems to confirm Sinan’s bitter picture of the place. Those who have engaged in education and culture, such as Sinan and his father, seem to remain poor and unhappy in contrast to those in charge of administration and businesses. They are “misfits” and “misshapen” concludes Sinan, similar to the titular wild pear tree, unable to find their place in the world, but still believing in the somewhat romantic notion of happiness.
“The Wild Pear Tree” is a magnificently shot and acted film about the lack of orientation in our lives, which we might have felt all at one point or the other. Despite its beauty at times, it is a provocative, dark portrayal of people who have lost their way in life.