Unwieldy, verbose, and digressive, I did not know that I loved The Wild Pear Tree until the final ten minutes of its three-hour plus run. I think that’s when the director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, explained it to me. Ceylan’s films are not for the faint of heart, and typically require patience (and, if in the theatre, an empty bladder). This film, in particular, takes a circuitous route in order to examine the feelings of abandonment we experience when our idols fail to live up to our expectations, and asks how we are to cope with their flawed humanity.
Sinan (Dogu Demirkol) has returned to his hometown of Çanakkale, Turkey, after graduating from university. Wanting to recuperate at home, catch up with friends, and to find a publisher for his “autofiction meta novel,” he is, instead, forced to confront his father’s debilitating gambling addiction. The father, Idris (Murat Cemcir), was, at one point, a poetic, inspiring teacher, but now only has fool-hardy ambitions to make more money. Both Dermirkol and Cemcir provide nuance to their roles ensuring that, at some point, during the three hours, we will be exasperated with their follies, yet, somehow, will worry about their happiness and well-being.
As Sinan’s mother (an excellent Bennu Yildirimlar) vacillates between adoration and hatred for her husband, and as Sinan himself comes to loathe his mother for her inability and unwillingness to leave the marriage, the young man becomes nasty with his sarcasm and cynicism. Hamlet is certainly evoked when Sinan accuses his mother of “making the bed” and now having to lie in it. Sinan’s sour mood does not only stay within the house: he takes it around town with him, engaging in a fist fight and attempting to rile up a local author. Sinan comes to stand for the disillusioned millennial, who is tired and irritated with what his hometown (and even country) have to offer. At the same time, he is also wondering what else there is.
There is at least a good hour of digressive conversations that appear to have nothing to do with the central emotional arc: to be honest, some of these conversations went over my head and I will need to revisit them at my next rewatch. Rest assured that the topics Sinan raises are thankfully contained with the conversation partner he happens to have at that particular point in time. For example, there will only be one conversation about the best way to interpret the Koran with two Imams at the beginning of the second hour – if it is too much to handle (since we are in the second hour after all), just wait it out. He’ll be home to talk to his mom soon.
I would like to give Hazar Ergüçlü, who plays the role of Hatice, a special mention. She is able to evoke a wide variety of emotions in her too-short presence in this film as an old flame of Sinan’s. Hatice is engaged to an older jeweller, and has lost faith in her ability to have an adventurous, exciting life. She is hoping that our young Hamlet can sympathize, just like a certain Ophelia once did.
This film will not be for everyone. It is not flashy, exciting, or particularly climatic. The director knows this and winks at us. Sinan’s project, the autofiction meta-novel is no accident, and some mention is given to how meandering and digressive it is, just like the film itself. At the same time, Idris, our father figure, is also meandering and digressive – he jokes and carries out his Quixotic plans in order to avoid having to face facts of how his addiction is harming his family.
It takes a straight arrow to pierce at the facades we build to protect ourselves from vulnerability. At the same time, the digressions are not bad, per se, you just need to let them wash over you and take what you like from them – I have.