Sunday, January 27, 2019

THE WILD PEAR TREE: Nuri Bilge Ceylan's latest, lengthy, loving dissection of family, country, religion -- but not quite politics

Nothing overtly political ever crops up in the latest endeavor from Turkish filmmaker, Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Not even a tiny aside such as the bit of "Erdo-gone" graffiti you might have noticed oh-so-briefly in that popular Turkish cat documentary from 2016, Kedi. Yet I defy any viewer who lasts out the 188-minute running time (this should not be difficult, given the quality of filmmaking here) of Ceylan's newest, THE WILD PEAR TREE, not to feel grateful that he or she lives almost anywhere else.

Mr. Ceylan, shown at left, never stints on showing us how beautiful are the Turkish landscapes, full of the kind of flora, fauna and gorgeous scenery you'd want to embrace. It is the people here, thoroughly fucked-up as they seem (which is standard in this filmmaker's work), who will give you pause.

Major family dysfunction is the rule, and while Ceylan is more than adept at spreading responsibility -- no single person, nor even an entire generation, comes off as villain here -- still, the buck must stop somewhere. And so it does. Just off-screen. The restraints that hobble anything close to a democratic society -- while inflicting helplessness and depression on that society, as it forever scrambles and strains to make ends meet by hook (or mostly crook) -- are inescapably shown.

Yet so long as Ceylan points no obvious fingers, he is allowed, thankfully for intelligent film lovers, to keep working and even to have his movies chosen as Turkey's Best Foreign Language Film submissions, as was this one. Mr. Ceylan has so far had five of his films submitted by Turkey in the BFLF category, but none have been actually nominated. TrustMovies suspects they are simply too demanding and lengthy for Academy members to appreciate fully.

The Wild Pear Tree has at its center a young man named Sinan (played by Aydin Doğu Demirkol, above) at last out of college who has written his first book -- that eponymously titled fruit tree --  and has come back to his family and home town to try to find financing for publication. How he does this involves everything from bureaucratic snivelling to family (depending upon how you perceive it) betrayal.

All this allows us to get quite an inclusive and all-angles view of his father (a fine Murat Cemcir, above), an addictive gambler; his angry yet steadfast mother (Bennu Yuldirimlar, below); and Sinan's grandparents;

as well as a look at some of his friends, a would-be lover, and a local politician, a business owner and even a successful author (Serkan Keskin, below) to whom he turns, somewhat angrily, for help.

As in his other lengthy and extremely rich movie, Winter Sleep, The Wild Pear Tree is distinguished by not only by its very strong character studies but also via some equally vital and almost shockingly lengthy conversations/philosophical discussions about writing/accommodating and religion, during which we eagerly hang on to each new turn of phrase and idea expressed. (The gorgeous, beautifully framed cinematography -- by Gökhan Tiryaki -- helps, too.)

We also find ourselves, in a tale told via occasional fantasy and dream, moving from anger and dismay to a sad and quiet understanding of the various characters and their needs and actions. The final father/son scene is as surprising and full-bodied as you could wish, ending the film on a note that is simultaneously hopeful yet might also be a mere continuation of all that has come before, now passed down to a new generation. However you choose to view it, The Wild Pear Tree takes an immediate place as one of this year's best.

A Cinema Guild release, the film opens in its U.S. theatrical premiere this Wednesday, January 30, in New York CIty at Film Forum and on February 8 in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal, followed by openings in another dozen cities over the weeks to come. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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