The Wild Pear Tree (2018) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A young writer returns to his hometown

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Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest film “The Wild Pear Tree” is a long, reflective emotional journey which has a number of memorable moments to be appreciated for their interesting mix of ideas, mood, and drama. Although you may frequently feel impatient due to its long running time (188 minutes) and slow narrative pacing, the movie is still a very rewarding experience on the whole, and it is surely another fascinating work from Ceylan, who previously impressed me a lot with “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” (2011) and “Winter Sleep” (2014).

The story of the movie mainly revolves around the frustrating struggle of a young aspiring writer named Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol). Having recently completed his college education, he hopes to take the first forward step for his future literature career as soon as possible, but things do not look that promising to him at all as he returns to his hometown located near the port of Çanakkale. Although he already has his first novel to be published, he does not have enough money for its publication, and his family cannot help him much as they have been constantly short of money due to the gambling debts of his school teacher father Idris (Murat Cemcir).

Sinan tries to find any possible way to get his first novel published, but, of course, he gets blocked by his harsh and difficult reality from the beginning. When he visits the mayor of Çanakkale for getting any financial support, the mayor seems to be interested in helping Sinan at first, but he subsequently becomes less interested when he sees that Sinan’s first novel is not particularly associated with the historical aspect of Çanakkale, which has been a popular site for tourists for being near the site of the Gallipoli campaign and the ancient city of Troy. As recommended by the mayor, Sinan subsequently goes to a local industrialist who seems to be interested a lot in local literature, but, not so surprisingly, it turns out that guy does not give much damn about literature, and we get a cringe-inducing moment while he makes condescending remarks on Sinan’s higher education.

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As it seems he will never publish his first novel, Sinan becomes more aware of the possibility of being stuck in his hometown just like his family and many others around him for the rest of his life. Although his first novel is, according to him, “a quirky auto-fiction meta-novel” which makes some philosophical/aesthetical observation on his hometown, he does not like his hometown much as reflected by his brief phone conversation with his friend (“If I were a dictator, I’d drop a f*cking atomic bomb on this place,”), and he surely wants to get away from his hometown as soon as he can, but it looks like he will eventually follow his father’s footsteps in one way or another no matter how much he tries.

Sinan usually regards his father with disgust and disdain, but Idris has no problem with that as a flawed but likable man who has somehow been fine with his meager and pathetic status. Sure, he is an incorrigible gambling addict, and his long-suffering wife Asuman (Bennu Yıldırımlar) had many difficult times because of that, but she has tolerated her husband for many years because, as she points out to Sinan at one point later in the film, he is at least a bit better than many other lousy husbands out there.

Steadily maintaining its calm, thoughtful mood, the movie leisurely saunters from one episodic moment to another. There is a long but compelling conversation sequence between Sinan and a famous local writer who kindly listens to him at first but then becomes quite exasperated for understandable reasons, and there later comes another impressive conversation sequence where Sinan has a sprawling talk on religion and ethics with two local imams as they walk together along a country road.

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The loveliest scene in the film comes from Sinan’s accidental encounter with Hatice (Hazar Ergüçlü), a young woman for whom Sinan once carried a torch in the past. As they talk and interact with each other during their little private time, we come to sense something developing between them, and Celyan and his cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki, who has been one of Ceylan’s frequent collaborators, gives us a tentatively erotic moment coupled with the palpable sounds of wind and bustling leaves.

Around its last act, the screenplay by Ceylan and his co-writers Ebru Ceylan and Akın Aksu falters a bit, and I am not sure whether the final scene of the movie works as well as intended, but I admire a lot its atmosphere, storytelling, and performance nonetheless. While Aydın Doğu Demirkol is effective as your average disaffected young hero, Murat Cemcir is superlative with his effortless shabby charm, and other performers in the film including Bennu Yıldırımlar, Hazar Ergüçlü, and Serkan Keskin are also solid in their respective supporting roles.

Overall, “The Wild Pear Tree”, which was selected as Turkey’s official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 2019 Academy Awards in last year, is definitely not something you can casually watch for entertainment, but it will grow on you once you give it a chance with some patience. To be frank with you, I do not think I understand everything in the film, but I had a fairly interesting time even while recognizing its rather pedantic aspect, and I am certainly willing to revisit it someday for more appreciation.

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