Adding to my list of films by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is Climates from 2006. This one like all other films by Ceylan that I have been able to get my hands on is superb minimalist cinema. His films are filled with silences, with subtle glances, and with equally subtle commentary on life in Turkey, especially life in Istanbul.
Climates opens with a man (Isa) and a woman (Bahar) touring some Turkish ruins. They appear to be on vacation, and he’s snapping pictures (he’s a college professor and she a television producer). She’s removed from him and appears to be bored (she yawns), but she watches him from behind some columns. There is no dialogue until Isa asks her directly if she is bored. After a bit she says no, but we don’t believe her. Up until this exchange there has been no dialogue, only ambient sound. And with Ceylan, the ambient sound will always include a dog barking in the distance.
Later that evening they are having dinner with old friends who live in the seaside area of their vacation. There is not much conversation. Bahar seems sullen, and there is something that seems to be on her mind.
The next day they are both at the beach, reading on mats. She falls asleep and imagines she is being buried in the sand by Isa. She awakes with a start. She decides to go for a swim. This is a great scene because while she is swimming (we can still see her in the distance), Isa holds an imaginary conversation with Bahar, telling her that they should probably break it off for awhile. Things don’t seem to be working out, there was always the age difference to contend with…then Isa turns his head to reveal that Bahar has been sitting behind him all along, out of the cameras lens, and that the conversation was real. A magical scene. He refers to a meaningless “Serap” incident, which sounds like he had cheated on her. It’s always “meaningless”, right? It meant something hurtful to Bahar.
They are on their way back from the beach with Bahar behind on a scooter, when she suddenly reaches around and puts her hands over his eyes. He crashes the scooter and they walk home separately. Isa puts her on a train back to Istanbul and tells Bahar he’ll call her when he’s back. She tells him not to.
Walking through a bookstore in Istanbul, he is hailed by an old friend who is there with his wife: Serap. Naturally Isa ends up in bed with her. The floor to be precise, in a bout of extremely rough sex. It’s ambiguous, in that it looks almost like rape. But since they hook up again I’ll put it down as rough sex.
Later, when Isa has followed Bahar to a shooting location in a cold, snowy part of Turkey, Bahar doesn’t know what to think. Isa wants her back. Says he is a changed man. Can they get back together. He’s different now. He’ll make it work. She wavers and tells him she just wants to know one thing: after they broke up did he see Serap in Istanbul?
An interesting question, and how does he answer it? Does he lie in an attempt to get back together with Bahar? Does he tell the truth and make a case that he is remorseful? Doesn’t the truth show her that he really is a changed man? What does he answer?
The couple is played by the real life married couple: Director and actor Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his talented wife with the great smile, Ebru Ceylan who has also appeared in Distant. Ceylan’s minimalist style fits my vision of what really speaks to me in cinema – and he has done this consistently. Along with Fatih Akim (Head-On and the great The Edge of Heaven) Turkey certainly has provided me with some memorable cinema events.
Three Monkeys, 2008