Memento

Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Starring Aydın Doğu Demirkol, Murat Cemcir, Bennu Yıldırımlar
Released 30 November

Words like ‘lyrical’ and ‘poetic’ are often attached to the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan. His previous pictures, including Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep, unfold in long takes, against light-dappled countryside vistas. The Wild Pear Tree therefore marks something of a departure for the director. While the film is as long as Winter Sleep (just over three hours) and confronts many of the themes that have become hallmarks of his work, Ceylan no longer seems content to allow his camera to capture rural Turkey as the site of a pure visual poetry.

Here the pace of cuts is quicker and the mise-en-scène less consciously aesthetic. There is an urgency and unease to the film that matches that of its protagonist, Sinan (Doğu Demirkol), a young writer who, newly graduated from university in the coastal city of Çanakkale, returns to his provincial hometown unsure of his future. Complicating matters is the dysfunctional family into which Sinan returns – his father Idris (Murat Cemcir) is a teacher whose wry romanticism has aged into a maddening, tragic inability to confront his own shortcomings, chief among them a gambling habit which has driven his family into poverty.

Sinan – a haughty, contrarian devotee of Cioran and Nietzsche – may not be the sort of person you’d like to spend three hours with in real life, but through his various encounters Ceylan sensitively explores the uncertain period after graduation, of returning to a home that has become small and oppressive. It would perhaps be facile to ascribe the change in Ceylan’s style to the effect of ongoing upheavals in Turkey, but there is a political edge to this film that is perhaps unsurprising given that Turkish students are the least satisfied of any developed country.


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Sinan’s job prospects are uninspiring, and the only one of his peers that seems at all happy is one making a handsome salary as a riot cop, beating up socialist protesters. In one arresting scene, Sinan comes across an old school friend who, now wearing a headscarf, is about to marry a wealthy older man. In response to her anxiety, Sinan cursorily suggests she “follow her heart”, to which she replies, “When did my heart last say anything?”

Ceylan’s talent for recording the nuances of family drama is matched in contemporary cinema only by the man that beat him for this year’s Palme d’Or, Shoplifters-director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Ceylan, and co-writer Ebru Ceylan’s, ability to craft long, carefully-measured dialogues is singular, and his cast handle them exquisitely. Particularly good are Serkan Keskin, who plays a successful writer Sinan ambushes with increasingly vexing questions, and Öner Erkan, as a thoughtful young imam whose reformist ideas run up against the realpolitik of his colleagues.

The Wild Pear Tree ends as a film about the relationship between a father and a son. In an extraordinary final sequence, Sinan, fresh from military service, goes to see his father at his grandfather’s house. As the snow falls, the two men sit outside and contemplate the things that, in spite of everything, still tie them together. Ceylan ends on two contrasting images of the young man’s fate, both of which will stay with viewers long after the lights come up. It is an appropriate ending to an astonishing film

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