Did master Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan need over three hours to tell the story of “The Wild Pear Tree”? Nobody should be surprised that he took it, given the 196-minute running time of his 2014 drama “Winter Sleep” and the relatively brisk 163-minute length of 2012’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.”
Ceylan is a filmmaker who takes his time, with long, dense conversations between characters and beautiful shots that linger. “Pear Tree” seems somewhat plotless at first, following a recent college graduate as he wanders around his hometown and gets into arguments with seemingly everyone he meets.
But the film rewards patience, becoming layered and nuanced with insight into the state of modern Turkey. It's also a complex portrayal of a strained father-son relationship, and, when you least expect it, it’s pretty funny.
“The Wild Pear Tree” gets its Madison premiere at 7 p.m. Friday at the UW Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall. The screening is free.
Sinan (Aydin Doğu Demirkol) is the college grad who returns home to the coastal city of Canakkale, his unfinished experimental novel (also named “The Wild Pear Tree”) in hand. The novel draws from his upbringing in Canakkale, but he can’t find anyone to help him publish because it doesn’t paint the town in a positive, tourist-friendly light.
If he can't be a published author, Sinan hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher, but in Turkey there are too few jobs and too many college graduates. In one scene, Sinan talks to a fellow literature graduate who has taken a job as a member of the riot police, since under autocratic president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, beating protesters seems to be a more promising career than teaching. The friend chuckles uncomfortably as he tells Sinan about beating up a protester who looks like a former classmate of theirs.
At home, Sinan has a tense relationship with his father Idris (Murat Cemcir), who is as cheerful and irresponsible as Sinan is dour and worried. Idris has gambled away most of the family’s savings, and everywhere Sinan goes he meets someone who has lent money to Idris.
Old friends, family members, city elders — Sinan antagonizes almost everyone he comes across with his dyspeptic point of view. At a bookshop, he meets a famous Turkish writer who might be able to offer him some advice. Instead, Sinan manages to insult and undermine the famous author at every turn in a lengthy conversation that gets uncomfortably funny. “I just loathe people,” Sinan tells his mother at one point, and the feeling is mutual.
Ceylan films Sinan’s endless, troubled wanderings against often beautiful autumnal landscapes, with panoramic shots of rolling hills and old farmhouses. Their visual loveliness seems to mock Sinan’s bitter emotional state.
“The Wild Pear Tree” can test the audience’s patience at times, as conversations go on and on, and Sinan encounters one dead end after another. But the film slowly builds in emotional force, leading to an unexpected truce between Sinan and Idris at the end that’s quite moving.
Like the gnarled tree that gives both Sinan's novel and the movie its name, father and son are isolated misfits, but defiantly unique. So is the film.