The Wild Pear Tree | Nuri Bilge Ceylan

[…] «That’s what taught me cinema. The film wasn’t good, but it made me realise what cinema is about: trying to find the meaning, to find a story in the editing.»

[…] «Too much support from the beginning is not good for art, I believe. Loneliness, difficulties, that is the reason why you have to do something. You have to express yourself and your lonely thoughts are what make your art in most cases. I think good art is hidden right there.»

[…] «If you feel you are liked, there is a tendency to protect that sympathy. So you begin to make films or artworks that other people expect, and ultimately you produce work that is less bold, less risky. I think artists should be kind of bad-boy-esque.»

Text: Pamela Jahn

The cinema of Nuri Bilge Ceylan is as elusive as it is alluring. Deriving unapologetically from the European art-house tradition of Michelangelo Antonioni, Theo Angelopoulos and the filmic universe of Andrei Tarkovsky, Ceylan displays a keen visual flair but the use of time, space and narrative is equally essential. Both a craftsman and individual stylist determined to make a mark on the viewer’s consciousness, he composes avowedly personal and sombre meditations on human alienation and the fragile temporal nature of even the most intimate relationships.

Ceylan’s latest triumph, The Wild Pear Tree, is another formidable example to demonstrate his mastery. Following on from his 2014 Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep, it is a gentle, deeply human film of such profound wisdom and unhurried beauty that it resonates long after the viewing. The story follows an ambitious young writer who returns to his family, destined for a teaching job somewhere in the east of Turkey but reluctant to accept his destiny. His passion is writing. In fact, he hopes to self-publish a book of fiction that he has been working on, and much of the film revolves around a series of conversational encounters between Sinan and the people around him as he seeks support for his project, either ideologically or financially, or both. However, with his father’s reputation among locals hitting rock-bottom due to his inveterate gambling addiction, things don’t quite go according to plan, leaving Sinan increasingly bewildered and pushed towards the limits of his pure and naïve understanding of the world.

Like his young protagonist in the film, Ceylan himself cares deeply about literature and his love for Chekhov has been especially evident since his superb Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011). Projecting a peculiar literary style onto the big screen, The Wild Pear Tree isn’t an easy watch. It’s a weighty and wordy film, but also a delightful and engaging meditation on life and fiction, and a remarkable achievement in the way it bends the boundaries between cinema and literature – and beyond.

INTERVIEW with Nuri Bilge Ceylan, by Pamela Jahn

The film is about a young writer, his family, and his ambition to get his work published. How much did the story resonate with your own upbringing, and with your own ambition to make it as an artist?
It’s quite close in parts, but the story is mainly based on somebody else. We wrote the script together, he is a relative of my son. And just like in the film, he is a teacher. He wrote two books and self-published them. But then, of course, I also injected my own experiences with my father, my mother, even with my wife. In fact, it’s a mixture of many different things.

How would you describe your relationship with your parents when you were younger?
I remember the conversations I had with my mother when I was at Sinan’s age. When I was young, they never believed that I would ever get a proper job. If you’re not earning money, for them, it’s not real in a way. That’s how they saw it. My cinema was like a game for them. But then, when I began to make money from making films, only then did they respect me.

What career would they have chosen for you?
I was educated as an engineer, and my parents would have preferred that, I am sure. But they never forced me to do anything. They were really soft and democratic parents. My father was also an engineer, but he never pushed me to step into his shoes. I only felt that they didn’t think anything of what I was doing was serious in a way. But that was it, they never insisted I do something else. I was free.

Where does your love for cinema come from?
It comes from the films that I watched when I grew up. Some films used to impress me a lot. They changed the way I look at the world, they broke my heart, they drew me in with their atmosphere. But when I was young, the cinema was much stronger, of course. There was no internet, no television, so cinema was the most influential thing that happened to me and to the community in the small town I spent my childhood in. You must know that every small town had a cinema in Turkey in those days. And the films used to change every day, because that was all there was. Without a television, what can you do? So, we used to go there. Cinema was very, very influential in those days. However, back then, I never thought that I can be a filmmaker, that came much later. I was a photographer first and then I learned the technical side of it. It took quite some time before I thought, well, maybe I can do this, because I found cinema a much stronger tool than, for example, photography, to tell the truth about the human condition.

Do you still remember making your first film?
Yes. It was a short film. My first and last short film. Looking  back, I think, it was the most difficult film I ever made, because there was no script. I used to shoot my family. I had a video camera and I was constantly filming, framing conversations, recording dialogues, everything. Probably for about one year I shot this movie, much to the frustration of my family, and then I tried to create a story while editing it. That’s what taught me cinema. The film wasn’t good, but it made me realise what cinema is about: trying to find the meaning, to find a story in the editing.

In your film, Sinan tries to make his mark with his first book, but he experiences a similar resistance from the people around him, who don’t believe in him or in his work. Do you feel there is a danger that young people step away from being creative because they don’t get the necessary support from their family or the world around them?
No, it was always been like that. Why should they support it? They don’t know what it is that he does and whether it is any good. Because the people around him are not arty people, they are religious. If you are dealing with literature, you are alone. You have to accept it. Maybe there are a few exceptions, and if you know anyone, you are lucky. I know this from my own experience. My first films were like aliens in the Turkish cinema industry. But I never thought of blaming anybody, because they were not the kind of films the audience was used to seeing at that time. And I didn’t get a single penny for my first three movies. So I think creative people should be ready for this kind of loneliness. It’s normal. And I think it should be the artist’s motivational impetus. Too much support from the beginning is not good for art, I believe. Loneliness, difficulties, that is the reason why you have to do something. You have to express yourself and your lonely thoughts are what make your art in most cases. I think good art is hidden right there.

Do you miss that kind of early loneliness sometimes?
Definitely. Because now, I can almost estimate the reactions of the audience. In the beginning, you don’t have the experience, you never know what they will make of it? Is this a film, or…? Even after my first three films, I still was never sure if what I did looked like a film at all. Now, more or less, I know and I can guess what the reactions will be like. And I don’t like the fact that I know. So the freshness, the loneliness, the fact of having no support, these are all good bad things, I think. Good misfortunes.

Your films strike astonishing parallels to literature in many ways. How much are you aware of this when you’re shooting. Is it something that comes naturally to you?
It must be, because I don’t plan that much. I go to the set and work quite instinctively.

Does your own love of literature play into that?
Yes. I love literature very much, but I think it’s especially with this film that I find people see it like a novel. At the same time, it’s not even an adaptation. If you make a film from a novel, generally they are very different…

In the case of The Wild Pear Tree it’s more the rhythm of how the story is told that echoes it, I think. The way you accompany a character throughout a period of time.
Maybe you’re right. But then, that’s how I conceived the film from the beginning. I wanted to make a film about young people in Turkey for a long time. I wanted to show everything that surrounds them. All kinds of values, institutions, everything, you know? Beliefs. So that’s why I constructed the narrative that way.

The book he writes, as he repeatedly says, is free of any faith or ideology.
Exactly. That was very important to me. I can say the same thing for my films. They are free of any ideology or beliefs or authority. Any art should always be like that, I believe.

He also describes the book as a «quirky auto-fiction meta-novel».
Yes, he does. Maybe this film is like that, too, I don’t know. But the reason he says that is because he wants to come across as sophisticated to the other writer, that’s why he talks in that way. He doesn’t want to be classified by the other guy, so he says these ambiguous things.

But he’s also not a very sympathetic character. It’s not someone you automatically bond with. On the contrary, the more he talks, the more you’re getting annoyed by him.
Definitely. That’s what we intended.

Do you think art itself should not necessarily be liked by other people?
Yes, it’s dangerous, I think. If you feel you are liked, there is a tendency to protect that sympathy. So you begin to make films or artworks that other people expect, and ultimately you produce work that is less bold, less risky. I think artists should be kind of bad-boy-esque.

In Winter Sleep you portrayed an older writer, as compared to the young one now. Are you worried about aging and the way your own art changes when you get older?
Yes. I feel that I’m getting older and it’s not a good feeling. Once you get to a certain age you begin to feel it more often. And especially because cinema needs energy. That’s also another disadvantage. Literature could be easier, but with cinema you have to be strong. Maybe that’s why many filmmakers stop when they reach a certain age. I don’t feel like that yet, and I am not sure if my art changes. If so, I don’t know which way, because I am not planning anything. I might want to do something today, but the next day I might change my mind and go into a completely different direction. I am like a fish trying to find his way in a muddy water.

Critics love to say you are a very “Chekhovian” filmmaker. Do you worry about people trying to label you in a certain way?
No, I don’t care. I like Chekhov very much. Maybe he changed my way of looking at life, because we look at life, real life, with filters. And in a way, Chekhov is that filter for me. Maybe I interpret the world through his eyes. Because he has many stories about all kind of situations, and I read them many times when I was younger. Also, Winter Sleep was based on some of his stories, and I wondered if I could create a Chekhovian atmosphere or not. If I succeeded, then actually I am quite happy with that.

I recently read a piece written by you about the making of The Wild Pear Tree and I wondered if you always keep a diary on set during the shooting of a film?
No. There’re only two times when I wrote diaries during the editing stages, because you have more time in editing. And you can take your time, maybe nine months, ten months, or even one year. So, for Anatolia and Three Monkeys I had a diary. They are also published. However, when I was working on Winter Sleep I couldn’t write, because I didn’t have time. I worked really hard to finish the film.

I loved the ending of The Wild Pear Tree very much. Was is always going to end like this? Do you know how a film ends before you start it?
No. I’m never sure. This was one of the options, but I shot several more endings. Eventually, I settled with this one. There were more pessimistic ones. There were very different ones. But as I said before, editing is the only place you can be sure, because in the writing, in the shooting, you don’t have time to be sure, or you cannot understand, because when the shots come together and they hit, when they connect to each other, things change.

Are you more definitive when it comes to beginnings?
No, the beginning was different as well. There was a prologue scene in which we see the father when he was young with his pupils, students, in the garden of the school. He was telling them about the wild pear tree, and we see Sinan as a child. We see the authority the father has over Sinan in the early days. He was more of an ideologist, a different person. It was a prologue set in the winter, a snowy scene.

How come you like winter so much?
I don’t know. I actually don’t like winter, but I like snow. It takes me back to my childhood somehow. In those days, it was always very snowy. When I see snowflakes, I feel like a child again myself. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. It keeps me young and that’s important.


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The Wild Pear Tree | Film | Nuri Bilge Ceylan | TK-MKD-BG-DE-FR-BIH-SWE 2018 | 188’

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First published: February 27, 2019