Out of the several literary giants that director Nuri Bilge Ceylan namechecks in the end credits of The Wild Pear Tree, Dostoevsky seems to have the strongest presence, since what has come before has been determined by the whims and failings of an ‘underground man’ named Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol), a university student who has drifted away from his studies to requiesce in his home village, perched in the hills near the Anatolian coast. His disdain for local life and fear of wasting away via a teaching position in the east are amplified by a near total lack of wherewithal, an aimlessness that provides the springboard for this long and perambulatory character study.
He searches for a tenuous release by seeking to publish his book, a collection of short fiction and essays from which the title is gleamed. His repeated attempts to secure an outlet are curtailed by a lack of funds, aggravated by his irascible but self-sabotaging father, Idris (Murat Cemcir), a primary school teacher who blows his earnings by racking up gambling debt. Yet the most significant roadblock is Sinan’s own personality, which Ceylan maps out in a series of lengthy, philosophical conversations held — often on the pretence of selling his book — with various members of society, including the superficial village mayor, another, more accomplished writer, the supposedly art-savvy head of a local construction firm and, in the film’s longest sequence, two young imams. No matter the subject, whether it be literary theory, political ethics or theology, Sinan reveals that he is lost in the way that, both consciously and unconsciously, he plays the contrarian. On the one hand he presents himself as a provocateur and a rebel who is ‘telling the truth’ and is ‘ideology-free’ yet outside of this bluster he consistently shows himself up as a person who is nihilistic, stubborn, misogynistic, condescending and unperceptive. His seeming total lack of any redeeming qualities is drawn out and made engaging through how these conversations are constructed, with Sinan as an instigator who is never able to carry a line of inquiry. Instead he probes and picks on his opponents’ responses, interjecting with a pedant’s impression of Socrates.
Sinan’s inflated sense of self is not only present in rhetoric. It is embodied too in the way he carries himself which, apart from a bomber jacket and a slight quiff, Aydın Doğu Demirkol locates in the way he shuffles with his head bent over, his shoulders bunched up and his hands firmly fixed in his pockets. The look is amusingly undermined by what is on top: a range of dead-eyed expressions, a Hapsburg jaw which he juts whenever he is pleased with himself and the busted lip that he sports for most of the film, following a fight that he, of course, provoked and then lost.
Though Ceylan, since Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011), is very literary filmmaker — feeling more comfortable brandishing what he has read then what he has seen — he shoots the bulk of his and co-writer/partner Ebru’s screenplay in straightforward shot reverse shot set-ups, or, in the case of the two imams, in long Steadicam-like takes (actually shot with a drone-mounted DJI cameraThis was pointed out to us by Steadicam expert David Vanden Bossche.) that move in a strictly observational mode. Yet he also links Sinan with visual metaphors whose heavy-handedness are off-set by their playfulness. The key example of which follows a humiliation that he acts out against with a particularly petty act of vandalism. When it gets more attention than he bargained for, he is forced to hide inside a model of the Trojan horse and so antiquity’s ultimate testament to fraudulence is recast as safety and shelter for its 21st century progeny.