Nuri Bilge Ceylan

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

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Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey, 1959), a master of existential elegies drenched in brooding, meditative atmospheres, anchored his film to a deeply intimate form of visual and aural poetry, emphasizing the meticulous choreography of sound and image and downplaying the narrative structure.

His first full-length films were Kasaba/ Small Town (1997) and Mayis Sikintisi/ Clouds of May (1999).

Uzak/ Distant (2002), a poem of solitude whose silence is reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni, and that directly references two other masters: the protagonist watches Tarkovsky's Stalker and the only soundtrack of the film is the theme from Theo Angelopoulos' Landscape in the Mist.

The central theme of the film is the contrast between the two members of an odd couple: an urban middle-aged intellectual and a provincial young man. They belong to different age groups, they have different education (one is an artist, the other one a worker), they come from different sexual experiences (one is divorced and has a married lover, the other one is probably a shy virgin). However, they share the mental state of being unsatisfied with their life while unable to change it. They don't like each other but the older man's mother is dying and his wife is marrying someone else, and the younger man has no friends now that he lives far away from his hometown, i.e. each is all that the other one has.

Largely silent and quasi-documentarian, mostly assembled from long shots, the film overflows with metaphors: the snow that blankets both the rural and urban landscape (the only thing that they have in common, i.e. the erasing of identity), the sinking ship at the harbor where the young man is looking for employment, the young man's decision to move out after witnessing the capture of the mouse that had long lived unwelcome in the house.

A young man walks away from a rural village through a snowy landscape to a road. He reaches the city and looks for an older man, who lives alone in an apartment and did not return the message that his mother left on his answering machine. The younger man is a relative from the same hometown who lost his job when a factory shut down and has come to the city hoping to find a new job. It is snowing also in the city. The young man, Yusuf, walks around to familiarize with the life of the city. At the harbor he passes by a sinking ship and it told that he can't find jobs directly from the ships. The older man, Mahmut, takes him to a cafe where he is meeting old friends. One of them accuses Mahmut of having abandoned his artistic passion, but Mahmut retorts that photography is dead. Yusuf stares at a girl in stairwell but can't find the courage to speak to her. At night they watch television together. Mahmut pretends to be watching Tarkovsky, but it is just a pretext to drive Yusuf away from the room. Left alone, Mahmut immediately switches to an erotic video. Yusuf hangs out at cafe popular with sailor and a veteran discourages him from working on ships. Mahmut's car is now buried in snow and Mahmut prefers to walk down the deserted street. Mahmut seems to miss his privacy as he is becoming hostile to Yusuf, eager for the young man to find a job and move out. However, Mahmut doesn't seem to have anything to do in life and no motivation to find something to do. Mostly, Mahmut sits in his armchair or at his desk in his studio/library; and he lays down traps for a mouse that keeps partying in the house. Yusuf walks into an agency despite a sign that clearly states there are no jobs available. Then he returns to a cafe to smoke a cigarette in solitude. Meanwhile, Mahmut is in another cafe, chatting with a woman in a melancholy tone. She is his former wife, Nazan, who is about to leave with her fiance Orhan to Canada. Her biggest problem is infertility, caused by an abortion that she chose to have, pressured by Mahmut, when they were about to separate. Mahmut remains alone in the cafe, drinking, and exchanges looks with a woman who walks in and sits at a table with her husband. Mahmut takes Yusuf with him on a photographic trip (they explore an idyllic rural landscape in Mahmut's tiny car). but Yusuf is not much help and simply puts Mahmut in a bad mood. Back home Mahmut finds a message from his sister that their mother is being hospitalized. On a stormy night Mahmut sleeps at her mother's hospital and takes care of her. Yusuf follows a girl and watches her hiding behind trees, but can't get himself to talk to her. Yusuf finds the erotic videos and watches them while Mahmut is at the hospital. follows another one, this time at a shopping mall Yusuf seems fascinated by city girls, who are probably very different from his village's girls, but is incapable of acting. While riding a tram, Yusuf sits next to a girl and tries to touch her leg with his knee until she realizes what is going on and gets up. He seems more intent on stalking girls than on finding a job. Yusuf seems to enjoy living in the city with free lodging. The lights of the city are a new experience for him, as are the fancy dresses and the busy shops. When Mahmut returns home from the hospital, he finds a mess in the house. That night Mahmut has sex with a woman, the married woman of the cafe, but she seems more depressed than excited. Mahmut is left in a bad mood, which he vents on Yusuf when the young man comes home later in the evening. A silver pocket watch is missing. Mahmut finds it but hides it and lets Yusuf agonize with the feeling that he is being suspected of theft. Nazan calls to thank him for signing the divorce papers and to apologize that she was cold when they met at the cafe. Yusuf is still protesting his innocence about the missing watch, and Mahmut still doesn't tell him that the watch is not missing after all. Finally that night Mahmut catches the mouse that has been haunting his kitchen. Yusuf hears the mouse squealing and wakes up. Mahmut can't deal with it and Yusuf offers to dispose of the mouse. Before throwing it in the garbage can, where a salivating cat would eat it alive, Yusuf kills the mouse by smashing its head against a wall. Later Mahmut has a nightmare that nobody is in the house, the tv is on but not getting any signal, and something is causing the tall lamp to fall. Early in the morning he gets up and leaves the house. After waiting for sunrise at the waterfront, he drives to the airport and watches his wife and her fiance walk to the boarding gates. Back home Mahmut finds a surprise: Yusuf has left the house. Mahmut walks back to the waterfront and, pensive, smokes a cigarette, sitting alone on a bench. We don't hear the sounds of the city. We only hear the sounds of seagulls, wind and waves.

The story of Iklimler/ Climates (2006), played by Ceylan himself and by his wife, is divided into three stages that correspond with three seasons, beginning with a summer crisis and ending with a resolution of that crisis in the winter. The film is not so much a psychological study of a middle-aged man (we never clearly understand his motives) but a general statement about the challenges of human relationships, more akin to Ingmar Bergman than Michelangelo Antonioni.

A couple, Bahar and her girlfriend Isa, is visiting ancient ruins in Turkey. He is taking pictures, she walks around a little bored. They have dinner with a couple of friends and during dinner they explain that it is rare for them to take a vacation, being both busy, and usually in different seasons. He is a university lecturer and she works for the television. The following day at the beach she has a nightmare that he is trying to drown her in sand. Whem she goes for a wim, he practices the words to tell her that he wants to split up. When he finally talks to her, he mentions that their age difference (he is much older) has become a real problem. They ride back in his motorcycle, without uttering a word. Out of the blue, she covers his eyes with her hands, causing the motorcycle to crash. The accident marks the end of their relationship. Isa wanders alone among the pillars of the ancient ruins.
The film then fast forwards to a university lesson during which Isa shows his pictures of the ruins to his students. Later he meets an old friend in a bookstore, and through him a girl, Serap. He waits for her in front of her house till late evening. She lets him in. They are old friends, and probably more than friends. They make wild love on the couch and on the floor. Isa visits his mother, who asks him when will he get married and make children. He explains that he first needs to finish work on his thesis. He meets with Serap again, and she is surprised to hear that he left Bahar, which means that to her it was normal to have sex with him if he was still with Bahar (he must have cheated before on Bahar with Serap). Isa tells his friends that he is taking a vacation in the sun, but instead he flies to a cold, snowy town where, he has learned, Bahar is working on a television program. He spies on her as she walks under heavy snow through the streets of the rural village. SHe sees him through the window of a cafe and confronts him in the street with an angry look. She accepts to sit down with him inside the cafe. He tries to reignite her love with a carillon. He claims that he is there to take photographs of some other ruins for his thesis. She is cold. He tries again the following day. He tells her that he has changed, and she breaks down into tears. He lies flatly to her when she asks him whether he has seen Serap. She tells him that it is too late. He climbs a hill and takes pictures of the vast snowy landscape. That night, surprisingly, Bahar shows up at his hotel room. They sleep together. When they wake up, it is snowing heavily outside. Smiling, she tells him that she dreamed that she was flying over the earth and that her dead mother was waving at her from her grave. The conversation has been pleasant and romantic, but suddenly he turns sullen, he reminds her that she has to work on the set, and mentions that it is the day of his flight. her smile turns into a desolate look. He doesn't even look at her. A woman is crying over a tomb that is buried in snow... a young man with a rifle approaches her... she wants revenge for her father's death... These are actors in the film that Bahar's troupe is filming. They have to take a break due to the noise of an airplane is taking off. She knows that it is Isa's flight, and she sheds a few tears.

Uc Maymun/ Three Monkeys (2008), with vivid photography by cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki that frequently steals the show, is a hybrid of film noir, Greek tragedy, working-class melodrama, and, last but not least, Aesop-style moral fable. What is notable is what we don't see: we don't see the car accident, we don't see the sex scene between mother and lover that the son sees from the keyhole, we don't hear the question that Eyup asks Servet, we don't see the murder, we don't see the son confessing the murder to the father, we don't even see who knocks at the door in the middle of the night (we find out in the next scene that it must have been a police officer). The ghostly dead son (the ultimate invisible element) seems to have something to do with the dysfunctional family with the father's willingness to spend a year in jail, with the brother's inability to get a job and pass an exam, with the mother's unhappiness, with the brother's decision to kill the bastard, and with the father's decision to rescue his son. Each of these three characters would deserve a separate film (or Greek tragedy), and in fact each is the protagonist at one point or another. Each could be the protagonist, and in fact they take shifts at that role: first the father, then the mother, then the son and finally the father again. Instead, this is a film without a protagonist. The film is also a cyclical story of moral punishment: one man bribes another man to go to jail for him, and this other man pays dearly for accepting and then has, in turn, bribe another man to go to jail for his son; and one wonders what will happen to this other man.

A politician, Servet, who is running for office at the forthcoming elections is driving at night. He is sleepy and accidentally kills someone. His political career would be finished. Instead, he offers a huge sum to one of his employees, Eyup, if he will take the rap. The man is condemned to one year in jail and the politician promises to pay him a lump sum when he is released. The man's son, Ismail, is unemployed and can't pass an important exam. When he visits his father in jail, that's the only thing the father asked him to do: pass the exam. One day Ismail comes home bleeding: he has been beaten by his friends. His mother, Hacer, decides to ask Servet for an advance on the lump sum, so that her son can buy a car and increase his chances of finding a decent job. She visits him at the wrong time: Servet has lost at the elections and is being humiliated on the phone by a rival. Comically, her phone's ringer goes off just when she could get his attention, and the phone keeps singing a popular song while she desperately tries to turn it off. She leaves embarrassed, but Servet insists on giving her a ride. He is clearly flirting with her. When she gets back home, she tells her son that she got Servet to agree. They did not involve Eyup because they know he would never agree out of pride and loyalty. One day the son comes home unexpectedly and catches his mother sleeping with Servet. They are having an affair. He is disgusted. Later he confronts her. She lies to him and he repeatedly slaps her in the face. In the evening he takes the train to visit his father at the prison, but lies to him that everything is ok at home. Back at home the son finds an envelop with the money that Servet paid to his mother, in theory an advance on the money Servet owes to his father, but in practice very reminiscent of payment for sex. The son lies in bed and closes his eyes. He has the vision of a naked child dripping water as if he just came out of a swimming pool. Time flies and his father is released from jail. His father is angry when he sees that the son bought a new car. He asks to stop and visit the other son: he died and is buried in a nearby cemetery (the child of the vision?) At home Eyup is annoyed that his mother's cell phone goes off all the time, singing that popular song. He picks up the phone and hears a man's voice who hangs up immediately. The phone goes off again when he confronts her about asking Servet for the money, something that Eyup senses was neither proper nor logical. He can't have sex with his wife because now he is tormented by doubt. When he meets Servet to get his money, Eyup says he has a question to ask but we don't hear it. Later, Hacer meets Servet in secret by the coast. She has honestly fallen in love with him, but he wants her to stop seeing him. He even threatens to kill her if she ever comes near him. She begs him in vain, even falling to her knees. He got what he wanted from her husband, he got what he wanted from her, and now he is not interested in that family anymore. Clearly, she has no desire to continue being the wife of a humble blue-collar worker, trapped in a small claustrophobic apartment. One night the police knock at the door. He and his wife are taken to the police station. Servet has been killed. The police inform Eyup that the last person to call Servet was his wife. The police clearly know about their extramarital affair. At home Eyup and Hacer do not talk. Their son breaks the silence: he did it. Eyup is lying on the bed and the dead son is caressing him. He hears his wife crying outside on the balcony and starts crying too. His wife is talking to their son. In the next scene they are all three in the same room, speechless, thinking what to do next. He sends his son to sleep, refuses to talk to his wife, gets dressed and leaves the house. He walks alone in a dark alley, sits down in a mosque where others are praying, and in the morning knocks at the door of a poor acquaintance. Ironically, Eyup now uses his money (the money he got from Servet) to bribe a poor man, Bayram, into confessing to Servet's murder and going to jail for his son. Eyup even explains that prisons have heat and food, which obviously Bayram must be short of. Then he climbs to the roof of his house and watches silently as a thunderstorm moves in. A train rides by (a cryptic recurring theme throughout the film).

Bir Zamanlar Anadoluda/ Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), photographed by Gokhan Tiryaki, is a lengthy meditation on ordinary life disguised as a travelogue (over one night and one morning) in search of a murder's corpse. The body that they are looking for is perhaps the meaning of life itself; when they find it, they only find more mysteries. We gradually learn that the main characters are all losers: the doctor is divorced, the prosecutor's wife committed suicide, the police chief's son is terminally ill. The object of the autopsy is ordinary life itself, and it inevitably reveals some dirt. There is much DeOliveira and some Angelopoulos in this slow and laconic meditation that mostly relies on visual clues.
There is a comic undercurrent that highlights incompetence and backwardness: a car breaks down, the driver has no map, the electricity goes off, nobody took a body bag, the morgue has no adequate equipment, etc. There are moments when the ineptitude of the searchers almost turns the tragedy into a slapstick comedy. This failure of the system extends to the murder itself: nobody seems interested in finding out the motive of the murder, even if it gets more and more obvious that there might be a bigger story of abuse and adultery hiding under the surface, nor in punishing the murderers, who don't look too sorry anyway. The whole story is just a procedural affair: they need a body to close the case. So the film is both an hermetic metaphysical study and a realist comedy.

The camera watches three men sitting at a table, drinking and chatting.
Three cars stop in the countryside at sunset, their passengers looking for something that is not there. They move on to another location. In a car there are five people, three cops (the middle-aged chief Naci, his driver Arab and an assistant) who discuss buffalo yogurt, a doctor named Cemal, and a handcuffed man named Kenan who doesn't talk. This one has confessed to a murder and now has to show where the corpse is, but he can't remember. In another car are a middle-aged prosecutor named Nusret, wearing a suit and tie, and a second handcuffed suspect. The third car is a jeep with two armed soldiers. The three cars keep driving through the landscape in the middle of the night. Every now and then they stop to look for the cadaver, but the murderer seems to have no clue about the burial site. His excuse: he was drunk when he committed the crime.
Sometimes they walk through the fields and the hills. Sometimes they listen to the distant thunder. Sometimes they talk about health and death. The police chief complains that his boy is chronically ill. During yet another stop in the middle of nowhere, he chats with the young doctor, who is divorced. The prosecutor comments that the world has become senseless. He mentions a beautiful woman who predicted the exact day of her own death. The wind blows dead leaves around them. The police chief loses his patience and kicks the murderer. The prosecutor stops him and pulls him aside to have a frank talk. The camera, as if bored, follows an apple that dropped into a creek and is drifting downstream until it gets caught in vegetation.
Tired, the team decides to head for a nearby village where they can spend the night. Arab is not excited because that village happens to be his wife's village. The mayor offers them food and complains with the prosecutor that the village doesn't have a proper morgue and needs to fix the cemetery: it is all about the dead. Then he mentions that there are only old people left, the young ones have emigrated, including his own sons. The electricity goes off and they are left in the dark. The mayor calls his daughter Cemile to bring the lamps. She walks in without a smile and without a word, carrying a tray with a lamp and several glasses of tea, which she serves to the men, as they, one by one, captivated by her beauty, stare at her face. She doesn't utter a word, or make any noise, passing by like a ghost, or, better, an angel; but seeing her makes the murderer evoke the guest of the dead man in terror.
The doctor coldly comments that it is a pity that such a beautiful woman is trapped in that village for life. He and the prosecutor restart the discussion over the woman who predicted her own death. The prosecutor knows too many details and we begin to suspect that the woman was his wife and that she committed suicide.
Kenan tells the police chief that the dead man's son is actually his son. Wind and thunder announce a storm. The girl hurries out to pick up the clothes that she left to dry. The chief is suddenly friendly to the murderer and offers him a cigarette.
In the morning they resume their journey and search. Arab the driver is still thinking aloud about the mayor's daughter. The others don't reply but probably think the same. Kenan stops the convoy and this time he is certain of the place where he buried the victim. The chief is furious when they see that the murderers tied the man like a pig before dumping him in the earth. The accomplice cries that he's the one who committed the murder, but Kenan tells him to shut up. The prosecutor follows procedure and dictates the report. The prosecutor even cracks a joke and is flattered that he looks like a Hollywood star. Finally the corpse is untied but they forgot to bring a body bag and they realize that all the cars have the trunk full. Six or seven of them haul the body up and squeeze him into a trunk; and Arab tosses in three melons he picked in the nearby field. On the way back Arab comments that the dead man was not a good man. The cars descend on the sleeping village and drive through the empty streets. Relatives and friends of the dead are waiting in a parking lot. When the body is pulled out of the trunk, the mob starts shouting at the murderers and the police has to intervene to avoid a lynching. Kenan stares at the dead man's wife across the mob. Her little son, his eyes full of hatred, grabs a rock and throws it, hitting Kenan in the face. Kenan stares at him petrified (this is his own son). We are left with the suspicion that the dead man may have been abusive to his wife, and that this may have led to her affair with Kenan, and to the murder for which Kenan is too anxious to take the blame.
Back to the city, they are all tired. The doctor, alone in his studio, watches pictures of his ex-wife. He stares outside the window, and then he stares straight into the camera. He has a secret that never comes out. The police chief tells the doctor that he keeps working because he cannot stand the tension at home with his son always sick. The doctor walks to the morgue. In the hallway the beautiful wife of the dead man is waiting. The prosecutor visits the doctor and they discuss the dead woman again. The prosecutor admits that her husband cheated on her but claims that she forgave him. The doctor insists that the woman probably committed suicide to punish the husband; and finally the prosecutor calls her "my wife". They walk into the room where the autopsy is about to begin. The wife is called in and she recognizes the dead body. The prosecutor leaves and the doctor begins the autopsy, described in excruciating details. Everything looks normal until they find dirt in the lungs. The assistant has no doubt tht the man was buried alive (which also explains why he was tied up by the murderer) but the doctor decides to lie in the report that nothing abnormal was discovered. Summed up with the fact that the murderers couldn't remember the location where they had buried the body, the fact that the victim was buried alive would reopen the case. The doctor watches from the window as the widow and her boy leave the precinct towards the schoolyard where children are playing. The doctor suspects something but doesn't say anything.
(The three people of the first scene were the two murderers and the victim).

Kis Uykusu/ Winter Sleep (2014)

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )