After graduation, would-be writer Sinan (Aydin Doğu Demirkol) returns to his Turkish hometown of Çan, to live with his family until he decides what to do next. He sets about trying to raise funds for the publication of his novel. An arrogant and supercilious young man, Sinan butts heads with everyone he knows, having a particularly difficult relationship with his father Idris (Murat Cemcir), a teacher and a gambling addict.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is not a director known for his brevity. His last three features have durations well over the two-hour mark; The Wild Pear Tree is three hours and eight minutes long. Combined with its languorous pacing and studiedly unspectacular plotting (this is three hours of pure conversation), it seems like a daunting prospect. A boring prospect.
The Wild Pear Tree is many things, but boring is not one of them. Ceylan’s film is an extraordinary, rich piece of cinema; there is so much in there. It’s a study of a character, a study of a town, and a rigorous philosophical debate.
Sinan is not a sympathetic lead; he’s entitled and patronising, he’s done less with his life than almost everyone he meets, and yet he still considers himself better than them. Watching him interact with old friends and new potential mentors can often lead to frustration. Ceylan never condemns him, though. Much like his interlocutors – an old love interest, a local author – we are invited to view him with exasperation, but not hatred. The exasperation stems largely from the feeling that there is something of worth in Sinan, if only he could shed his childish selfishness, and see the worth in other people. If he could grow up. And over the course of those one hundred and eighty-eight minutes, ever so gradually, we see him move in the right direction.It’s Murat Cemcir, however, as his troubled father Idris, who puts in the most memorable performance. Once a respected teacher, he is now known purely as a gambler; his addiction has led him to owe half the town money. He is a punchline and a laughingstock, and the main target of his son’s ire. Despite all of these – not entirely unearned – indignities, we rarely see him without a smile on his face. He’s aware what people think of him, and he carries on regardless, trying his best. There’s a real, shop-worn nobility to Idris, thanks to Cemcir’s graceful turn.
Ceylan, working with long-time collaborator DOP Gökhan Tiryaki, gives The Wild Pear Tree a magisterial, dreamy beauty. An early scene, where Sinan meets his old school friend Hatice (Hazar Ergüçlü) in an autumnal-golden field is perhaps the height of the film’s cinematic grandeur; the hazy light, the gentle wind, the perfect framing – it’s nothing less than transcendent.
There’s not enough room here to cover all that is wonderful about The Wild Pear Tree. This is a film so full, it merits countless pages of study. Few movies released this year – or over the last few years – leave you feeling so thoroughly nourished by the end, like you’ve eaten an excellent meal after days of hunger.