Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Cast: Dogu Demirkol, Murat Cemcir, Bennu Yildirimlar, Hazar Ergüçlü
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From Pinter to Spider-Man, homecomings are rife with cinematic potential, thanks to their ability to unearth all manner of buried conflicts, both old and new. When it comes to unspoken grudges, though, Sinan (Doğu Demirkol) doesn’t have a problem: he likes his grudges spoken at full volume. “I’d drop an atomic bomb on this place,” he declares early on, after returning to his rural hometown after studying in the busy city of Canakkale.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan captures his arrival with just the right balance of importance and insignificance – the early shots framing him against the landscape are quietly jaw-dropping in scale and beauty, placing our protagonist grandly at the centre of the frame, before calming sweeping away from him to show us the much bigger world he thinks he’s outgrown. He wanders the streets with barely concealed disdain, perfectly performed by Demirkol, who conveys the arrogance of youth with his smile alone. One of the best scenes sees him cross paths with Süleyman (Serkan Keskin), a local writer, but rather than ask him for advice, Sinan, who is hoping to get his own book published, spends the conversation taunting and mocking him – it’s a painfully entertaining encounter, prickled with laughs and clashing egos.
When he meets up with Hatice (Hazar Ergüçlü), an old friend whom he has long held a flame for, we see a sweeter, more vulnerable side to him – but even that is overshadowed by his resentment and insecurity, which leaves him looking upon her as trapped and beneath him.
His relationship with his father, though, is the most absorbing of all: played with consummate failure by Murat Cemcir, Idris is a teacher who spends more time gambling than helping his students, a once-romantic figure who now has a family he can barely support because he’s thrown all his money away. Before we even meet him, we’re told of a debt he still owes a local shopkeeper, and that knowledge hangs over Idris’ defeated shoulders, a man unable to admit that he’s lost, or that he continues to lose. Sinan, of course, is all too ready to label his father a loser, but The Wild Pear Tree’s strength lies in the way it refuses to let that be the end of it; a conversation with his mother, in which she defends her decision to marry him, brings a wonderful vein of affection and hope to a story that might otherwise have been played for callous amusement. Just as Idris has sold himself out, we see Sinan potentially selling himself short through cynicism alone – the question of whether he’ll help his dad to dig a well in the land he owns nearby, with ambition of one day finding water, becomes a symbol of that willingness to dream.
These relationships are rendered with gorgeous nuance and minute complexities; it’s the stuff of melodrama dialled down to a whisper, less a booming soap opera and more a warm bath by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Throughout, the sad truth of Sinan’s philosophy comes into view. A writer of a “quirky auto-fiction meta-novel”, he prefers his own writing about life to the real thing, afraid of failure in reality, but equally wary of following in his father’s footsteps and taking the exams to become a teacher too. The pear tree of the title is described in his book as “gnarled and stunted”, but there’s a resilience to those trees too – even in an unforgiving environment, life finds a way to grow.