Writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan gained international acclaim a few years ago thanks to his previous film, Distant, a Grand Jury Prize winner at Cannes. His latest release, Climates, also notched an award win at Cannes this year, furthering his exposure of Turkish cinema to the world stage. Both films tread common ground, focusing on starkly different individuals trying to find a connection between each other that might not exist, although Climates centers on romance instead of the familial struggle portrayed in Distant.
Climates traces the deteriorating relationship between middle-aged professor Isa (played by Ceylan) and his noticeably younger TV producer girlfriend Bahar (Ceylan’s real-life wife, Ebru Ceylan). There’s not much in common between them, so when Isa suggests they end their relationship he meets little resistance from Bahar. This break leads both of them in new directions, with Isa reconnecting with an old flame while Bahar pursues her career far away from home.
Based on his actions, Isa is portrayed as an unlikeable, selfish character. He decides to leave his girlfriend for no discernible reason other than general ruminations about their age gap and resulting lack of compatibility. He stalks an ex-girlfriend and forces himself on her while concurrently making her eat a nut he dropped on the floor, a questionable scene that gains him no points in his treatment of women. Finally, he stalks Bahar and tries to worm his way back into her life, an act of desperation so laughable that it’s painful to watch. Isa seemingly wants what he doesn’t have until he possesses it, then he doesn’t want it anymore. He shows no capacity for true love or dedication, so why would Bahar want anything to do with him?
As for Bahar, she’s given little to do other than stare off into space with a melancholy look on her face, with occasional teary jags that alternately make her appear either sad or possibly deranged. There’s no indication of how she met Isa, why she was ever attracted to him, or why she’s prone to emotional outbursts. Viewers can infer that her unhappiness is entirely the result of her relationship with Isa, making it even harder to understand why she would entertain the idea of reconnecting with him.
As Isa, Ceylan contributes a powerful, effortless performance. Even though he plays an unsavory character, there’s an intelligence at play in his eyes that makes him magnetic on screen. He speaks volumes without words, using subtle expressions to convey his emotions and provide an anchor to the film. His wife doesn’t impress nearly as much, but this appears to be more the fault of her limited role than her inherent ability. Other supporting actors pop in for minimal screen time, but the majority of the film rests firmly on the performances of the Ceylans.
Ceylan seems to be far more interested in setting a mood than delivering a powerful story, keeping the scripted lines to a bare minimum and relying on the expressions of his actors and himself to carry the narrative. It’s difficult to discern the true nature of his characters as there’s no backstory or definitive conclusion, just scenes following the aftermath of their breakup. This lack of character development is certain to find fans ready to welcome his minimalist style that relies on viewers to connect the dots, as well as detractors in search of decidedly more substance.
The film was shot throughout Turkey, from metropolitan Istanbul to the sun-drenched Aegean seaside town of Kas to the bitter eastern winter of Dogubayazit, giving viewers a breathtaking glimpse of Turkey’s natural beauty. Ceylan’s languorous shots allow viewers to bask in the varied climates of this largely unknown corner of the world, providing a compelling backdrop to the story. Surprisingly, the film was shot on hi-def video, but it’s clearly a case of video done right as it looks comparable to or better than film, with sharp detail and vibrant color. While the film’s languid pace might not appeal to everyone, the presentation and locations are superb.
Climates opens in limited release in NYC on October 27th, followed by LA on November 10th before expanding to other markets. Check the film’s website for additional locations and DVD release information.
Written by Caballero Oscuro