‘The Wild Pear Tree’ Review: A Gambler and a Writer at Odds | Modern Society of USA

‘The Wild Pear Tree’ Review: A Gambler and a Writer at Odds

‘The Wild Pear Tree’ Review: A Gambler and a Writer at Odds

“The Wild Pear Tree,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest film, shares its title with a manuscript written by its protagonist, a restless young man named Sinan. The book is a collection of short pieces, quasi- or semi-fictional but based in reality, touching on aspects of life in the part of western Turkey where Sinan (Aydin Dogu Demirkol) and his family live. Pitching the manuscript to a local government official he thinks might subsidize its publication, the author is at pains to describe it in resolutely anti-commercial terms. Though the area includes the battle sites of both Troy and Gallipoli, there is nothing of historical or touristic interest in the work. It’s defiantly cerebral — resistant to summary, classification and perhaps easy comprehension as well. Like the movie, more or less.

Sinan, a recent university graduate with uncertain employment prospects, seems at once brazenly ambitious and stubbornly self-undermining. A big, graceless guy with a hint of Adam Sandler in his slack, stubbled face, he isn’t the most pleasant company. But Ceylan’s characters rarely are.

Over eight features in more than 20 years, this director, a fixture at Cannes and other international festivals, has charted the isolation, anomie and passive-aggressive gloom of modern, mostly secular Turks. Their failure to connect with one another or the better parts of themselves can feel symptomatic of a larger malaise. Young or old, artists, farmers or entrepreneurs, they tend to be frustrated, adrift and confused, at once alienated from their society and unable to break free of it.

Sinan shares that condition with his father, Idris (Murat Cemcir), a schoolteacher whose gambling habit has brought embarrassment and financial hardship to the family. Sinan’s mother, Asuman (Bennu Yildirimlar), wavers between disgust and resignation. When he’s not hanging out at the betting parlor or cadging small loans in the town of Çan, Idris spends his time in the rural village where he grew up and where his father and parents-in-law still live. His main pastime is working on an ill-advised well that yields no water but plenty of metaphorical juice.

Futility is less the theme of “The Wild Pear Tree” than the soil from which its delicate narrative tendrils sprout. Nearly everyone seems thwarted, and they respond with resignation, dissipation or truculent and empty gestures of rebellion. That’s Sinan’s approach, and much of the film — the most absorbing scenes as well as the most abrasive — consists of his arguments, harangues and bull sessions with people who sometimes unwittingly become the target of his resentment.

These include Hatice (Hazar Erguclu), the former girlfriend of a friend of Sinan’s he later goads into a fistfight; a prominent author Sinan buttonholes in a bookstore; and, at greatest length, a pair of clergymen he encounters near Idris’s ramshackle farmhouse. The content of these discourses is variously metaphysical, ethical, literary and romantic, but what makes them worth attending to is less what is said than the unspoken currents of meaning and feeling that Ceylan’s camera captures. Nothing much actually happens, but there is a restlessness, a tension that pushes nearly every moment toward an invisible precipice of violence.

Sinan keeps a photograph of Albert Camus in his room. His encounter with the author takes place beneath poster-size likenesses of Franz Kafka and Gabriel García Márquez. Ceylan infuses the film with elements of absurdism and magic realism, sprinkling dream and fantasy sequences into the drab, naturalistic atmosphere. Sinan himself often resembles a Dostoyevsky character — a man whose aspirations outstrip his prospects and whose romantic temperament threatens to curdle into corrosive cynicism. His relationship with Idris has overtones of Arthur Miller. And as so often with Ceylan — most notably in his early “Clouds of May” and his Palme d’Or-winning “Winter Sleep” — there is a heavy dose of Chekhov.

The unapologetic, sometimes heavy-handed literariness of “The Wild Pear Tree” is leavened by hints of grim comedy and sharp, if subtle, social criticism. While the film and its characters avoid explicit political commentary, the world they inhabit is one that has been corrupted by money, power and self-dealing. Other sources of value — religious, artistic, democratic — have been hollowed out and cannibalized by greed. There are few teaching jobs available for Sinan, but plenty of opportunities with the army and the police, fighting “in the east” or beating up leftists closer to home.

Idris, pathetic as his addiction has made him, has a certain integrity: To be a committed loser when everyone around you is obsessed with winning might count as a form of resistance. Making — and paying attention to — slow, difficult, idea-laden movies might be another.

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