NYFF ‘18 Review: ‘The Wild Pear Tree’

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s long awaited new film The Wild Pear Tree premiered at Cannes this year. Its near 190-minute runtime might be scary for audiences that are not familiar with Ceylan’s work, but it is merely a surprise to cognizant audiences. However, the film has such a captivating flow that the viewers might not even perceive the passing of three hours – it is definitely more entertaining than his last film Winter Sleep which was also over three hours. Unlike his previous films which were decorated with elegant images of nature, The Wild Pear Tree is visually more raw; less pastoral beauty and more crooked landscapes that people live in. The shots are still representative of the director’s distinctive poeticism, and the brutal landscapes are the perfect reflections of the subject matter that is the deeply rooted in the suffocating anxiety spread across the young people of Turkey.

Four years has passed since Ceylan won Palme D’or with Winter Sleep (2014) and much has changed in Turkey since then. The Wild Pear Tree is the director’s most politically reflective work yet, in his own way of course. The anxiety that’s overtaken the Turkish youth is personified in the main character Sinan (Dogu Demirkol), a young man who just graduated university and wants to become a writer. He returns to his hometown Çan, a small town in Çanakkale, a city in northwestern Turkey. He wants to publish his book but has no money to do so with the financial ruin of his family due to his father İdris’ (Murat Cemcir) gambling addiction. Sinan wanders in Çan, walking from door to door to find someone who’ll help him publish his book. His encounters with men who might help him are hilariously tragic and sad illustrations of the different mindset between the old and young people of the country. Sinan quickly finds out that the men like the Mayor or the construction company owner – who he is told is a voracious reader but has only four books in his bookshelf – prefer to support books that’ll help tourism: stories about Çanakkale’s epic The Gallipoli war. Sinan prefers to tell the story of the unknown individual, like the homeless man that lurks around the town. For the old men in power, stories of the history of heroes they never knew are more worthy of attention, unlike Sinan who sees the value of the individual that breathes the same air as him. He has more to tell about the experiences of the town’s people than the same stories about history that people have heard a hundred times. These confrontations are masterfully done, reflective of Sinan’s desire to demonstrate the general in the individual – the conflict amongst the public manifests in the specific encounters.

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In one of the film’s best scenes, Sinan runs into a famous author who reluctantly lets Sinan ask questions that are less like questions and more like insulting statements. They talk about the integrity and moral responsibilities of a writer amongst other things. Their conversation becomes more heated by the second until the author angrily begs Sinan to leave him alone. It’s a scene in which Sinan’s confrontational behavior is most apparent, and his intellectual wannabe way of speech – which made me think “who talks like that?” – turns from laughable to unlikable. Whose side one takes in the argument aside, the scene once again demonstrates the artistic and literary conflict between the two generations.

The aforementioned anxiety that Sinan embodies, escalates throughout the film until it reaches an unbearable strength that manifests itself in the final scene whose realism is left to the viewer’s perspective. He wants to be a writer, but has no financial means to manage a life as one. He decides to pursue teaching as a paying career, like his father whom he detests. However, to even be considered for appointment as a teacher in the far east parts of country, he must pass an extremely hard exam that hundreds of thousands of unemployed university graduates take every year. He talks on the phone with a friend from university who failed to get a teaching job and became a member of the riot police force instead. His friend has no shame in describing the details of how he fights against and beats demonstrators. Sinan doesn’t bother to study for the exam which he eventually fails, considers becoming a riot police himself, which would make his university degree a useless piece of paper. In a nightmare Sinan runs away from a cop and gets caught inside the Trojan horse that symbolises the history he tries to stay away from. In a haunting sequence he sees a body lying under the tree and almost runs away in fear, thinking it is a dead person. These anxiety-filled visions are matched with his reality where his books he proudly showed off to everyone and published through many efforts are showed to be rotting in the corner of his parents’ house which he scoured at every chance. The Wild Pear Tree is a film that is at times hilarious, but ultimately melancholic exploration of trying to find one’s way in insoluble conflicts and bleak futures through debates that lead to nowhere.

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