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Intimate Turkish drama chronicles a rocky relationship

Wednesday, Jan 24 2007
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A terrific movie in the Antonioni tradition, Climates confirms 47-year-old Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan as one of the world's most accomplished filmmakers — handling the end of a relationship, and the cloud of human confusion rising from its wreckage, as if the subject had never before been attempted.

Urban professionals on vacation: Bahar is a sullen twentysomething TV art director; Isa, 20 years older, is an overbearing university instructor. The opening sequence alternates between mega-close-ups of bored Bahar in the summer sun and long shots of Isa, glimpsed between the pillars of the Roman ruins that he's photographing for his still-unfinished dissertation. What is she looking at and what is he looking for?

The imperfect, not-quite-disengagement of these two isolated figures makes for a more emotionally complex tale than Ceylan's 2003 Distant, in which a country bumpkin moves in with his massively indifferent city cousin. The tone is pensive and the narrative fluid. (Sitting on the beach, Isa wants to end the affair; he rehearses a line that segues into his actual conversation with Bahar.) A symbolic motorbike mishap notwithstanding, the couple's breakup is more mediocre than bad. The situation is rendered extraordinary through Ceylan's use of landscape as objective correlative — the action, such as it is, moving from Black Sea resort to Istanbul to wintry province in eastern Turkey.

Superbly crafted on high-definition video, Climates is a movie of intimate, unbalanced compositions. Ceylan specializes in human micro-behavior. Were it not for the studied sound mix (so crisp you can hear the cigarettes sizzle), he might be directing a silent movie. Climates' best moments chart the reactions of one character to another when the second unexpectedly appears. The default mode is a watchful look at once sheepish and challenging. Alienation is palpable and ambivalence universal. (The sense of the human condition is that expressed by Marilyn Monroe in There's No Business Like Show Business: "After you get what you want you don't want it.") When the newly single Isa drops in on his ex, she can't decide whether to be hostile or hysterical. After a few preliminaries, he pins her on the floor.

Climates is filled with unforced metaphors — the tacky music box Isa gives Bahar, the televised earthquake he watches — many of them meteorological. Isa tells a colleague that he's going south for his vacation: "I need some decent weather." He next appears in a snowy dump where he's heard Bahar has gone on location. (In one of the movie's several extraordinary one-on-ones, Isa corners her as she waits in a van, the film crew loading equipment behind them, and proposes. )

Knowledge that Isa is played by the director and Bahar by his wife, Ebru Ceylan, inflects Climates less toward confessional psychodrama than ultra-professional acting exercise. Ceylan wants to make certain that his character is understood as a mildly odious, self-pitying, passive-aggressive type; his wife's character has the monopoly on inner life, expressed not only by her mood-flickering close-ups but two dreams. The wonderful ending ponders her face once more. The falling snow substitutes for unshed tears.

About The Author

J. Hoberman

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