Monday, February 12, 2007

Review | Climates (Iklimler) by Philip French

Sunday February 11, 2007
The Observer

Climates (Iklimler)
(101 mins, 15)
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan; starring Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Nazan Kesal

Four years ago, Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan won the Grand Prix du Jury at Cannes for his movie Uzak, and its main actors (both non-professional) shared the best actor award. That remarkable film centres on the difficult relationship between a divorced commercial photographer and his young, unemployed nephew from the countryside who moves into his Istanbul flat while searching for work.

It's a bleak, minimalist work about desolation and loss, though it did have one brilliantly funny sequence in which the photographer attempts to establish his superiority over his peasant nephew by watching a video of Tarkovsky's Stalker. When this highbrow film drives the bored boy to bed, he puts on a lesbian porn movie. Suddenly, the lad returns and his uncle switches to a TV channel showing a crude Turkish comedy which bores both of them to distraction.

There's a little parable in that scene about taste, honesty and posturing and in an odd way, it anticipates Ceylan's masterly, totally convincing new picture. It's clearly influenced by Tarkovsky (as well as Bergman, Antonioni, Angelopoulos and the European high-art cinema of a couple of decades ago); it features an erotic scene that one suspects is unusually strong for a Turkish movie and it ends on the location set of what appears to be a dire melodrama being made for Turkish television.

The movie is called Climates, though it might well have been called 'Seasons', because it unfolds in three parts - a sweltering summer beside the sea, an autumn accompanied by torrential rain in Istanbul and winter in the snowy mountains in eastern Turkey. The weather reflects the moods of its hero, Isa, and his relationship with his partner, Bahar, and they're played by Ceylan and his real-life wife, while the hero's parents are played by Ceylan's elderly parents.

Isa, a university teacher in his forties, is first seen in a pre-credit sequence taking photographs in a ruined temple in Kas, the holiday resort on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. He and Bahar are alone in the baking heat and seem separate from each other. She climbs a hill to look down on the site and sees him stumble without actually falling and a tear runs down her cheek. There's no music, just natural sound. The only music we hear later is a Scarlatti sonata and the tinny tinkling of a minute music box.

It's a curiously haunting opening and is followed after the credits by several more holiday scenes. In a single seven-minute take at an alfresco dinner with another couple, conversation dries up and while Bahar and Isa are at each other's throats, they never raise their voices. A break-up seems imminent. The following day on the beach, Bahar has a dream of being buried alive by Isa and he rehearses and then delivers a speech about going their own ways while remaining friends. She next tries to kill them both while on a motor scooter negotiating a road that drops precipitately into the sea. This scene ends with a long-held shot of a boat out at sea which is echoed in the final shot: life goes on oblivious to their troubled lives.

We're never told if the couple are married or just living together when they break up and, indeed, most things are left for us to infer from what we see or from hints dropped in conversation. It is never revealed what Isa teaches (archaeology? architecture? photography?), but we gather that his career has stalled, that he has an edgy relationship with a fellow teacher, rarely visits his parents and has a casual attitude towards the truth.

Bahar, an art director working in television, is a gentle, sensitive, vulnerable creature. By contrast, Isa's former girlfriend Serap is tough, mocking and married to a close friend of his. This relationship doesn't prevent him pursuing her and on their first reunion, they move on from coffee to wine and then to sex. Again with only one edit and no camera movement, Isa and Serap start making love on a sofa, fall off on to the floor and thrash around, tearing off each other's clothes in a manner even more brutal (and more convincing) than the sex between Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche in Damage

Isa, who has something of the weakness, self-deception and spiritual emptiness of the heroes of Antonioni's L'Avventura and La Notte, soon rejects Serap and, seeking a change, he considers a holiday in the sun. But a photograph in a brochure of an idyllic beach makes him think of the previous summer and Bahar, whose name apparently means spring in Turkish. So instead of heading for warmer climes, he takes a plane to the snow-covered country town in the east where Bahar is on location, shooting a peasant revenge melodrama.

He stalks her and tries to win her back, declaring that he's a changed man, that he'll go anywhere, do anything for her. She asks him to give her a truthful answer to one question. He lies. The main scene of their reunion takes place in a minibus in a seemingly endless single take that is constantly interrupted by members of the crew opening the doors to deposit film equipment. It is absolutely riveting and painfully honest. This movie is art house angst in its purest form, but I cannot imagine anyone, anywhere over the age of 30 failing to find Climates deeply affecting.

· Climates: Turkey Cinemascope, an exhibition of photographs by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is showing at the National Theatre, London SE1, until 3 March

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