Deep discussions on a well of life (“The Wild Pear Tree”, N. B. Ceylan)

After getting his university degree in literature, Sinan (Aydin Dogu Demirkolu) returns from the Turkish seaside town of Çanakkale to his native “kasaba” (a community larger than a village smaller than the city) Çan. His desire is to publish a collection of essays and short stories, a “wonderful meta-roman in auto-fiction”, which reflects his not so concealed repulsion towards the conservative local community. To show his dominant and intellectual position to others, he plans to finance his book from the province’s budget. Returning home, he finds out that his father, Idris (Murat Cemcir), a formerly respected literature professor, fell into deep debts by gambling and, in addition to material damage, damaged his prominent family name.

Just by reading the synopsis of The Wild Pear Tree, it is noticeable that Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is directly influenced by the works of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, precisely by drama Cherry Orchard. It is necessary to emphasize that this is not the first time that Ceylan draws inspiration from the work of late realism and early modernism in his works. His previous film Winter Sleep was actually a direct adaptation of another work of Chekhov (short story The Wife).

On the well of knowledge

From his first film, Kasaba, Ceylan was always telling us stories of small family people and relationships between those in a position of power and the ones who are oppressed. Many of his films (Clouds of May, Distant, Climates) follow the artistic souls falling into the abyss and also there is a repetition of one motif, people (and vehicles) moving away, down the roads. With this, the director expresses a constant quest for meaning and escape from the commonality of his protagonists.

The Wild Pear Tree is the culmination of all the previous knowledge acquired in twenty years of career, used to tell complex narrative through multiple smaller stories, from a story about young man in a simultaneous search for meaning and way of life, through the story of collective political suppression of society to meta-stories about the repetition of history, depression and suicide.

The brilliance of Wild Pear Tree is reflected in the fact that full narrative is expressed through long-lasting dialogues of characters who can sometimes take up to twenty minutes. Ceylan still managed simultaneously to deepen his thematic spectrum but also to keep the attention of the viewer while leading these infinitely long dialogues.

Agony of reality

In his quest for meaning, the protagonist Sinan goes through a series of episodes accompanied by deep discussions, all moving from a family meeting, where they talk about success, honours and choking that the small environment creates is intellectually elevated.  “How is it possible that there are frogs, here at the meadow, and there is no groundwater”, asks Sinan’s father Idris (Murat Cemcir) angrily digging the the hole for the well in the introductory minutes of the film, while trying to prove to his father and his son that the environment has not drowned him, that there is still fight and desires for success deep within him. What appears at first impression as an empty speech, of a deadbeat man, is actually a fantastic all-encompassing film metaphor of “superficial success”.

A comical fault, in the shape of a farce, occurs by Sinan encountering face to face with a rotten local government, who would gladly “circumvent the law” for a young writer if he would actually publish the travel guide about Çan. Yet they are not interested in the novel about a small place (without previously questioning the content of it). The peak of the farce is, however, is the encounter of Sinan with an older “famous writer”, who actually agreed to rules of local government and wrote state propaganda in order to maintain his status as a “free artist”.

When the priests experience the first sin

With the director pushing this scene from a mild accidental encounter to a preposterous crowd on the street, we, as an audience, are starting to sympathize with a writer. The true strength of the dialogue in the film is best shown there with Sinan irritating “famous writer” with an endless idealistic question, Ceylan has found the perfect formula to simultaneously narrate dialogue, comment on current topics, but also use it as a powerful tool for launching a wide range of emotions.

Nevertheless, what would be a reflection on the political situation in Turkey and the world without touching religion? The longest episode of the film follows Sinan’s encounter with two local imams (Muslim priests) who are taking apples from a land that is not their own. In this encounter, a young literary writer is on the side, with his philosophical inclinations; as Socrates he just supports the dialogue, pushing the traditional village imam and his younger liberal colleague to discuss problems of religion between themselves. The final outcome is not only a deep twenty-minute comparison of conservative religious attitudes with modern but also a kind of reflection on the general behaviour and perception of the world in different generations.

The Wild Pear Tree is not a simple movie in any sense. It has deep symbolic visual identity, often reminiscent of the best works of Abbas Kiarostami, a story inspired by the works of the Chekhov, pervaded by infinitely long, natural dialogues, which often carry a triple meaning, slow episodic development that shows perfectly everyday life; everything in this film is twisted to approach the complexity of human nature. It’s only up to us to separate three hours and ten minutes and immerse ourselves in reality shown on the other side of the screen.