The Wild Pear Tree film review: A languorous exploration of cultural change in modern Turkey from Palme d’Or-winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan

There are two Turkeys in The Wild Pear Tree. One – the film’s backdrop – is the shabby provinces, where the summit of prestige is a career as a teacher. The other, lying at the story’s edge, is the cosmopolitan realm of high culture and aspirations.

Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) is trapped in between. After graduating from a city university, he returns to his hometown with romantic notions of publishing a memoir about it. But he’s soon reminded of the village’s petty grudges and small-town conservatism. While clashing with parochial officials and his feckless gambler of a dad, he gradually adjusts his ambitions for himself.

These people may sound like archetypes, but they are richly complex. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan specialises in drawing out his characters’ psychology by letting them talk at length, in the rhythm of real speech. Tree unfolds through tortuous discussions both trivial and philosophical, which the cast delivers with sensitivity. In little poetic interludes, the camera drifts off to capture rustling leaves or torrential rain, as if to intimate a cosmic beauty which the villagers lost sight of long ago.

Tree is set in the Aegean region of Çanakkale, where Ceylan grew up, and its world rings true. The film sketches the village’s social dynamics in great detail, while hinting at how its fault lines extend across contemporary Turkey. But the drawback of naturalistic dialogue is that real people say redundant things, and so it proves here. As the film pushes toward its fourth hour, the characters increasingly repeat themselves or spell out the morals of the story.

Garrulousness is becoming Ceylan’s biggest vice. It inflated the running time of his last film, the Palme d’Or-winning Winter Sleep. The same is true here. When a jackal’s cry interrupted the final conversation, I wanted to thank the animal.