Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree closed out this year’s Cannes competition on Friday night, and more than a few reviews mention that its placement at the end of an eleven-day marathon made for a pretty tough-going three hours. For Notebook editor Daniel Kasman, though, the film—a series of conversations with family, friends, and mentors conducted by a college graduate who’s returned to his small hometown near the port city of Çanakkale—“proved immediately engrossing, like that wonderful experience of starting a hefty book late at night and finding oneself reading until dawn.”
Jonathan Romney, writing for Film Comment, would find the comparison apt. “Ceylan cares profoundly about literature,” and “the influence of Chekhov, if only in establishing a certain rueful, ruminative tone, has been especially evident since his superb Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011). But, like Winter Sleep,” the winner of the Palme d’Or in 2014, “his new film makes me wonder how much Ceylan is now motivated by a passion for cinema. . . . The Wild Pear Tree seems less the work of a great filmmaker than that of an important novelist. That feels to me like a loss.”
But Variety’s Jay Weissberg argues that “Ceylan and his fellow scriptwriters (wife Ebru Ceylan along with Akın Aksu, also acting) develop astonishingly complex spoken recitatives that weave philosophy, religious tradition, and ethics together into a mesmerizing verbal fugue.”
While many reviews are finding The Wild Pear Tree to be “talky and dense,” the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin assures us that it’s “also sensual and lyrical, tremendously well acted, heavy in visual and verbal metaphor, and so ablaze with pastoral beauty that the hillsides and forests seem to glow with their own amber light.”
Writing for Sight & Sound, Geoff Andrew adds that The Wild Pear Tree “has a limpid, elegant simplicity reminiscent of his earlier work, while the sparing but effective use of a Bach passacaglia is entirely in keeping with the faintly melancholy mood.”
More from Kaleem Aftab (Cineuropa), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 5/5), Dan Fainaru (Screen), Ben Kenigsberg (RogerEbert.com), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B+), Rory O’Connor (Film Stage, A-), and Deborah Young (Hollywood Reporter).
Update, 5/27: In the Village Voice, Bilge Ebiri finds that Ceylan has delivered “what might be his funniest, most politically poignant work yet. It also happens to be achingly personal.” More from David Jenkins (Little White Lies) and Jessica Kiang (Playlist, C+/B-).
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