Original Name: Ahlat Ağacı
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Runtime: 188 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6628102/
Right just after Mektoub, we have another meandering 3-hour plus talky film from another Palme d’Or director, this time from the acclaimed Turkish Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Arguably the most celebrated Turkish temporary director at this moment, his films have become increasingly longer (his earlier Distant for instance, which ‘only’ runs for 100 minutes) and much talkier. It’s funny that I watched this one, Mektoub and Climax around the same time, because while all of these are dialogue-heavy in nature (the first 15 minutes of Climax anyway), the topics they choose for their dialogues reflect very well the background of these characters and the world they inhabit. The Wild Palm Tree, in particular, feels more like a poem with some philosophical, religional ideas peppered on top. Which might be appropriate, since the main character Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) is an inspirational writer who just come back quiet hometown from uni and doesn’t know which direction he should take for his life. He writes his first novel, the part-autobiographical titular The Wild Pear Tree about… something he can’t even describe clearly. That wild pear tree, while we don’t have a chance to see it on screen (or does it? Forgive me if I may have missed its appearance), is more a symbolism of the people of his village: “misfits, solitary, misshapen”. Sinan is confident about his unpublished novel, just like any young blood does with their first draft, and contempt about his hometown, and his father, whom he regards as a failure.
Designed more as a snapshot to this specific stage of his life, the movie, like many of its sequences, is a long, static focus on him as he navigates around town with the people around him.as such, ‘Meandering’ is a proper word to describe this film. Like his previous Winter Sleep, this film is layered with both lyrical and conversational sense, as characters talk and talk throughout the movie. Sometimes it’s about writing, other times it’s about existence and philosophy of life. As such, The Wild Pear Tree falls short in one aspect. The main character, Sinan, is a protagonist that neither interesting nor relatable. Part-overconfident about himself, especially when it comes to him seeing his own town like the town is sort of inferior to his way of thinking now and represents all the things that he doesn’t want to relate with. Part-insecure about his own future, as he wants to be a writer but lack the financial back, or even talent, to pursue that goal.
Most of the time we see him as a impatient figure who picks wrong fights, says wrong words to the people around him. In one instance, he approaches the established writer in his town as he’s meant to give his book for the senior for criticizing; he ends up berating the man. “The young should criticize the old, that’s how progress works”, his father says that once during the film. But the film makes it clear that he’s at the stage where he naively believes his opinions are always right, that the world will discover his talent. By all mean, his character doesn’t hold up well not because he’s a pathetic character, but more due to how he only develops slowly during the epilogue (which easily the film’s best part), making the whole time he’s a stoic character who refuse to grow up.
The second issue the film has is that it can be self-indulgent with its own ideas at times. There’s a (in)famous sequence where Sinan meets his friends, an imam, and they just chat about faith, religious tradition and the meaning of life for half an hour while walking to the nearby cafe. This sequence would fall more in place with the Linklater’s Before trilogy. It is a fascinating scene in its own right, but putting it into the context of this film about Sinan and his own frustration, it doesn’t add up much. The same can be said for the earlier scene where he meet his childhood friend Hatice, the whole sequence is sensual and beautiful but it feels removed from the rest of the film.
Whereas the film’s in fine footing whenever it explores the main character and his father Idris (Murat Cemcir) relationship. His father, a smooth-talking primary school teacher who was once ambitious, but now falters into gambling addiction that burn away all his family’s money. His father, and the sleepy town are everything that Sinan doesn’t want to be. Dead-broke aside, his father spends weekend digging up a well, despite all the neighbors say there’s no water. As time passes, Sinan starts to discredit everything the old man does. If there is one main theme of The Wild Pear Tree, it’s the frustration of the young generation and the immature dismissal at the older generations. Hence, the epilogue section, where Sinan, after some time-skip, begins to notice and understand his father better, is where the film achieves its thematic goal, albeit it’s far too short and doesn’t reach the emotional height it’s consistently building up for nearly three hour.
In addition, The Wild Pear Tree leaves the strongest impact when it conveys its themes visually in a poetic and sensual touch. The silences in between these talky heads, and most notably the stunning lyrical images during each segment, all further showcase why Ceylan as one the finest director working today. From the baby laying on the wild tree that has ants crawling all over his face, to the main protagonist found himself inside of the Trojan horse, each image is so striking it engraves to the memory like nails holding the shape of the big picture. Gökhan Tiryaki, Ceylan’s regular, shot this film gloriously in the Ceylan’s own birthplace, Çanakkale, famously known for the nearest major town to the site of ancient Troy and Gallipoli Campaign. In the end, it’s still a very worthy film and fans of Ceylan’s previous works will find plenty to enjoy. While the film for me doesn’t always justify its long runtime, it’s still a visually rich and dense film, dense both with the amount of dialogues and the amount of ideas, for better or for worse.