April 9, 2007

Couple’s Love Changes With the Seasons

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In the wise words of pioneering, long-haired band Nazareth: love hurts. That certainly is the message of the much-hailed film, Climates, created by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Climates is a detailed foray into the tradition of cinéma vérité, capturing the disintegration of a relationship. Isa (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the director and writer) is a forty-ish university professor of classical architecture. He dates a somewhat younger Bahar (Ebu Ceylan, the director’s wife in real life), a television producer of some sort. The details of their professions as well as of their pasts are not investigated, nor do they need to be analyzed.
Ceylan’s film is concerned with the immediate problems that the couple faces. It doesn’t take Freud to figure out that these two have emotional issues. Both Isa and Bahar are independent and pretty successful people — the same up-and-coming professional class on which Turkey prides itself. However, they are both emotionally immature. Isa is often self-centered and unfeeling towards the needs of his friends, parents and Bahar. Likewise, Bahar is prone to immaturity and strange outbursts of anger and sadness.
Ceylan’s title reflects the structure of his film. We are introduced to the couple while they are on vacation at the coast. The weather, like their relationship, is sweltering in the last days of summer. Unfortunately, instead of a last hurrah, Isa and Bahar look at ruins, a not-to-subtle metaphor for the state of their own relationship. After both call an end to their time together, we follow Isa back to Istanbul where he waits out a stormy autumn. In the rain he attempts to rekindle a previous romantic interest with a woman named Serap (Nazan Kirilmis). Serap is the anti-Bahar — outgoing, tempestuous — and that fact simultaneously draws Isa to her and repels him away. The third, and last, portion of the film takes us to the eastern outskirts of Turkey where both Isa and Bahar find themselves in a metaphorical and literal winter of discontent. Surrounded by snow, a grey, colorless sky and the dead of winter, both make a last-ditch attempt at reestablishing their relationship.
Just like the weather, Ceylan’s film shows us that emotions also run in cycles. Both Isa and Bahar move in and out of periods of love and boredom with each other. Unfortunately, these seasons of temperament never seem to match up. In a cold, barren hotel room, Isa and Bahar seem to be on the verge of reconciliation. However, this resolution is ephemeral, just like the snowflakes outside the window. As soon as the two realize they deeply feel for each other, Isa makes an off-handed comment, and we see the impending romance melt on Bahar’s face.
In less skilled hands, Climates could have been a real snooze fest. Fortunately, the careful touch of Ceylan keeps the film relevant and emotionally engaging. While Ebu Ceylan’s role as Bahar is powerful — especially the long, personal shots of her face and emotions that start and conclude the film — the film’s most intriguing character is Isa. In Isa we find a person familiar to all of us. He is a man who at his core is a narcissist. Despite this fact, his loneliness and yearning for human connection endears him to us (and Bahar, and Sherap, and anyone else who interacts with Isa). It’s the reason why we desperately want Bahar to return to him, even though it’s obvious that the relationship will not work. Even Bahar is confused by her own willingness to attempt another go at the relationship.
While I could go on discussing the thematic intricacies of Climates, it’s also worth pointing out that the cinematography is stunningly beautiful. Ceylan uses the rugged coast and sweeping landscapes of Istanbul as an intimate backdrop to the film’s plot. Despite the use of monumental ruins and cityscapes, the film is deeply personal.
Instead of depending on dialogue, Ceylan focuses on the physical responses and dispositions of his characters. Every breath, curl of the lip and averting eye is captured in Ceylan’s detailed touch. In many ways, Ceylan demonstrates to us that it is not what we say that defines us, but instead what we are incapable of communicating. Some of the most powerful moments in Climates occur when, through their body language and expressions, Isa and Bahar know what they need to say, but are emotionally incapable of doing so.
Cornell Cinema will be showing Climates Thursday, April 12, Saturday, April 14 and Tuesday, April 17 in WSH.