Movie review: The Wild Pear Tree (Ahlat Ağacı)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Immersing yourself in a slow-paced character drama that feels enough at ease with itself to take its own sweet time telling its tale is one of life’s great delights.

You may not always like the characters or you may find yourself challenged by the story or the ideas contained therein but nevertheless there is something deeply soothing and soul-enriching about seeing someone’s life play out in a series of almost real-time vignettes.

Unfortunately despite the immense love extended to it by reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes and it’s near-constant presence at the time of its initial release at film festivals worldwide, and the fact that it was directed by revered Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, The Wild Pear Tree (Ahlat Ağacı) fails to be that kind of film.

In fact, so wearily does it, and its near-universally cast of unlikable characters, tell its directionless and bloated story that you are not so much soothed as increasingly driven to limb-gnawing exasperation that it will actually get anywhere meaningful at all.

Part of the problem lies with its length.

At 3 hours and 9 minutes, it eclipses many blockbusters in running time, which any narrative vapidity aside, tend to at least have something happening to distract from any attendant storytelling failings.

There is no such reprieve with The Wild Pear Tree which loses its way consistently in meandering conversations featuring its protagonist Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) who seems hellbent on a one-way mission to alienate and argue with every single person in his life.

It doesn’t matter if they’re close family members such as gambling addict father Idris (Murat Cemcir), put-upon, exhausted-with-life mother Asuman (Bennu Yıldırımlar) or studious sister Yasemin (Asena Keskinci), past romantic objects of affection such as Hatice (Hazar Ergüçlü) or one-time high school friends as alcoholic Riza (Ahmet Rıfat Şungar), Sinan is contrarily happy to pick a fight with them all.


(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Wearying though this is, and honestly some of the conversations are so long, rambling and convoluted that you wish you had the atomic bomb that Sinan wishes would destroy his hometown Çanakkale at your disposal, it’s made even more unbearable by the fact that Sinan is simply not a nice person.

In and of itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Unlikable protagonists are a staple of indie, arthouse and foreign films, and if every character was likable, you’d essentially end up with a live-action Care Bears movie which I think we can all agree is in no one’s best interests.

But Sinan is a thoroughly-disagreeable protagonist in a movie full to bursting with nasty people – in the most turgid way possible; this is not a film that does anything quick in a hurry, including telling a coherent and intelligent, emotionally-involving story – a man who is so possessed of his own greatness as a writer and observer of humanity that he fails to listen to anyone else, viewing conversation not as a two-way discourse but a verbal baton over the head.

This might be bearable if the conversations were finely-edited and cogently-written, but they’re not, with so many ideas stuffed into the neverending torrent of usually aggressive back and forths, that you eventually switch off and hope something will wake you when everyone has shut the hell up.

If the conversations had shed any real light on who Sinan is and why he is so disaffected you might also have enjoyed them for the narrative richness they might have added, but again, any real character insights, and there are some, get lost in the verbal fog that envelops almost all of the character interactions.

The only bright spots seem to be Sinan’s affection for his grandparents, maternal and paternal, and his well-disguised love for his mother who earns a rapturous thank you in the book he finally self-publishes, also called The Wild Pear Tree, but receives nothing save for a scornful lack of empathy from her son who views her as contemptuously as anyone else unfortunate enough to fall into his toxically-unhappy, eternally-sullen orbit.


(image courtesy IMP Awards)

The pity with all the messy, bloated excess is that there is a really beautiful film hidden somewhere within.

The cinematography by Gökhan Tiryaki is breathtakingly good, making great use of the urban and rural landscapes in which the film takes place, and the story of a young man, trying and failing and then succeeding in making his dreams come true, and struggling with the great gulf that often exists between dreams and execution, is one ripe for meaningfully thought-out drama.

Here and there, The Wild Pear Tree does explore how adversely Sinan’s life has been disaffected by his father, but whenever an alternating or dissenting opinion is given, such as Asuman strangely coming to her husband’s defense when everything to date has indicated she despises him, it is subsumed beneath Sinan’s bile and a conversation so enervatingly attenuated that you cease caring by the end of it.

Those kernels of narrative incisiveness enforce the idea that Ceylan has something important things to say about Turkish society and family life, but they are lost in a sea of unfocused scenes that so becalm and muddy the storytelling that it’s almost impossible to separate the narrative wheat from the chaff.

By the 2 hour and 20 minute point in the film when Sinan is having yet another pointless argument, this time with mother Asuman, you simply want the whole nightmarishly long ordeal to end, any emotional connection with the story or characters long gone, and the only thought in your head is “When will all this end?”

While respectful of the fact that many other people have seen things in the film that have obviously evaded me, The Wild Pear Tree is one of those infamous films that I will go out of my way to avoid for the rest of my life, which is far too short to be further interrupted by the unfinishable meandering, overly-long mess that is the tale of Sinan and his miserable, superiority-addled, argumentative existence.

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