Cannes 2018: Ceylan's 'The Wild Pear Tree' is Profound, Existential Art
by Alex Billington
May 20, 2018
Why do I keep doing this? Why do I write reviews, why do I write about films? Why do I even watch films? What is the point of pursuing a creative life when you know that maybe there's nothing waiting for you at the end - no fame, no fortune, no glory. Why? My favorite films are those that challenge me and stimulate me intellectually, that ask big questions and stoke discussions about existence and society and humanity. The Wild Pear Tree, originally titled Ahlat Agaci in Turkish, is the latest film to do this. It's the very last film to premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and they saved the best for last. Acclaimed Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a master of words. His dialogue is incomparable, on a whole other level. And he continues to prove this with each and every film he makes. His latest film is one of his best yet, an existential examination of his own fears while taking us on a journey about life focusing on a father and son.
Ceylan's The Wild Pear Tree follows a young Turkish man named Sinan, played by Dogu Demirkol, fresh out of university who returns to his small hometown to catch up with his family and figure out what he's going to do next in life. He has just finished a novel, and part of the plot involves him going around to various people trying to get funding to self-publish the book in hopes that it might allow him to become an author. This is his dream, but even though we may have dreams, they don't always come true. Sinan has a strained relationship with his family, especially with his father Idris, played by Murat Cemcir. The film runs a full three hours (which is the usual for Ceylan) and features numerous extended discussions that go on for 30 minutes between various people Sinan encounters. But don't worry, all of these discussions are fascinating, and as usual with Ceylan, it kept me captivated all the way up until the breathtaking final shot.
This film really hit me deep - it seems to be about Ceylan freaking out himself and questioning his own life as a creative person. While the main emotional aspect is about Sinan's relationship with this dad, the meat of the story and more meaningful discussions involve Sinan wondering whether the life of a creative person is worth it. Where does it lead him? One of the best discussions in the film is one he has with another local author that he finds working at a small bookstore in a nearby town. At first, their talk seems harmless and inspiring, but it begins to twist and turn into something else, evolving into a much greater concern about the purpose of our lives and the desire to actually be successful with our creative work. We yearn for people to accept and admire what we create, and yet if no one cares, is there still a point? Ceylan grapples with these kind of questions and provides no answers - I don't think he has one because he's going through it himself.
As soon as this ended, I wanted to call some of my friends and talk about it for hours. The Wild Pear Tree is a profoundly philosophical, mesmerizing, gloriously human work of expressive art where the dialogue is his paint brush. I love the way he lets his talks evolve, even if they're not entirely realistic, where two or three people start discussing something and then go on for a long time about any and everything else. It reminds me of the brilliant chats in Linklater's Before films. The philosophical ruminations in his works tickle my mind in ways that few filmmakers can. I could just watch these conversations endlessly. They're intellectual magic. And I don't have explanations nor do I want to provide any, because it's really about the discussions his beautifully crafted films provoke - and not about simple answers. The only real conclusion he provides, which has a grand impact in this film, is to keep at it. Never give up, even if you know it might lead nowhere.
Alex's Cannes 2018 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
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