David Lynch was right: words have failed me. As I left the Cannes premiere of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree, I felt strangely compelled to share my dislike for the film because I didn’t understand its appeal. Waiting for hours in line, sleep deprived and under the weather, my fatigued mind simply couldn’t handle the extended emotional investment of Ceylan’s masterful film. Bewildered as to what I had just watched, I responded negatively to a film wholly undeserving.
Out of all ten films I saw at Cannes though, Ceylan’s is probably the one I think about most often. There hasn’t been a single day since I left in which The Wild Pear Tree hasn’t crossed my mind, and my attitude towards it only becomes fonder as time passes. It’s not a film that can easily be described, and my act of condemning it with a single tweet so soon after an initial viewing was surely a prideful error on my part. Now that I’ve given it some time to wash over me, I’m ready to talk about it.
On the surface, The Wild Pear Tree is about the strained relationship between Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) and his father Idris (Murat Cemcir). Sinan is an aspiring author. He has just finished university, and is trying- and failing- to find a publisher for his first novel, a genreless collection of ruminations on his hometown. His father Idris is a gambling addict, someone whose dreams have long ago failed but whose pride hasn’t. Sinan resents him, as well as most authority figures in his life. He’s ambitious, impatient, and romantic, and is frustrated that everyone else isn’t.
Beyond Tarkovsky, I can’t think of another filmmaker so purposefully oblivious to ordinary pacing rules than Ceylan, and that’s not a bad thing. The Wild Pear Tree has the relaxed, unhurried ambiance of meeting a friend for coffee. Film audiences are generally not acclimated to this class of heartbeat-paced filmmaking, and definitely not to the slow conversations within them. Conventional cinematic conversations are short, scripted interactions that usually only serve to highlight the important story beat without dwelling on many of the particulars.
Such theatrical shortcuts are nowhere to be found here. Ceylan preserves every rich, dense detail of his conversations, carrying them on for as long as they need last, which sometimes entails over 20 minutes of runtime. That might sound like a bore, but in the moment it flows by as real conversation often does. Both the rich banter and its relaxed presentation combine for an enthralling realism that few other directors are able to conjure.
Many of these extended conversation sequences stand out, one in particular being an amusing quarrel that Sinan strikes up with a locally renowned author. The manner in which Sinan’s sarcasm and passive-aggressiveness ever so gradually withers down the wits of the middle-aged novelist is not only hilarious, but also incredibly telling of his character’s immaturity.
Another is a lengthy discussion Sinan has with two imams on a dusty road. We trail behind them, eavesdropping on their philosophical banter about the Quran, God, and the nature of free will. It’s a fascinating discourse on religion, and it benefits from presenting a uniquely Islamic view on the topics, something that I myself am not particularly familiar with.
The organic nature in which both of these scenes play out is distinctive of Ceylan’s style of character development. By refusing to squeeze out extraneous detail, Ceylan allows his characters to breath, becoming known to us as naturally as they would speak, largely shrugging off the need for exposition. We’re introduced without any sense of immediacy to Sinan’s world and his struggle to define himself as an artist.
The camera captures everything in a meditatively formalistic gaze, grounded in realism yet mesmeric. Long takes are a necessity, only occasionally cutting away from deep conversation to linger on the calm Turkish countryside or the candlelit inside of a flat with no power. There’s an overwhelming sense of tranquil stillness permeating every corner of the film’s world, extending to sound as well. When characters argue, their raised voices don’t even come close to threatening its insistent calmness, as if to contextualize their predominantly personal struggles as tiny and insignificant.
If The Wild Pear Tree feels more literary than cinematic in its method and tone, so does its lasting impression, which has the bittersweet farewell of turning the last page on a vast, thousand-page novel. Its final snowy scene touchingly reunites and reconciles the relationship between Sinan and his father, rather poetically concluding Sinan’s struggle for acceptance with a single memorable line uttered by Idris.
Though many of the films I saw at Cannes undoubtedly deserve rewatches, none of them deserve more definitively than The Wild Pear Tree. I eagerly await the chance to rediscover it some Sunday morning over a hot pot of coffee and my reverent attention. Some may find its runtime exhausting, and indeed that’s a natural response, but those that allow themselves to drift into its hypnotic trance will be swept away in this masterful, emotionally resonant, and impossibly personal epic from Nuri Bilge Ceylan.