May 19 2019
‘Everything seems meaningless and dark to me,’ says Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan
02 November 2018

Turkish film director, photographer, screenwriter and actor Nuri Bilge Ceylan on melancholic lives, working in solitude and exploring the unknown through cinema

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree, is a masterly ode to fathers and sons. The film also casts an eye on religion and the unrest and lack of direction in the Turkish youth. One of the highlights at Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film festival with Star, the film was also a Palme d’Or contender at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, where The Hindu had caught up with Ceylan for a round-table discussion. Edited excerpts from the conversation…


Do you think life can be about doing something futile like the protagonist in The Wild Pear Tree digging a well which has no water at the bottom of it?

I feel sometimes filmmaking can be the same [laughs]. In life I am a very melancholic person, so life for me could easily be very meaningless. But by filmmaking I can talk about this melancholia. I can get rid of it maybe. It’s like therapy.

It’s also about how life can creep up on you as it does on the main character; the realisation that he is more like his father than he ever thought.

I have done my best to have him [the father] nearest possible to the real father. The father is actually the father of the co-scriptwriter who made me feel that I had to make this film. He also felt like my own father. He has good values for me, but nobody around him cares. He is so alone, so lonely. And my father had to live the same way all his life.

Is the wild pear tree a metaphor for Turkey?

No no. I started off with a book by the co-scriptwriter called The Longness [Length] of the Wild Pear Tree. I used the story in the prologue to the film which I skipped eventually.

There is a lot of time spent on discussions…

I try to be realistic as much as possible. I wanted to talk about what’s surrounding young men in Turkey, what they have to confront in real life especially if they want to do something different. For example, if you want to be a writer in the countryside nobody will understand you. You will be quite alone. It’s not easy to find a friend who will understand you. There are some people in the region I come from who catch me when I go [visiting] because they have no one to talk to about literature etc. My father was also like this. He loved history, Alexander the Great, was an expert but he couldn’t talk about this with anybody. If he [shared stories] nobody would care. People around him would start making fun of him.

How did you shoot and edit the long religion sequence?

It’s the longest in the film. But religion is an important aspect of life in Turkey. It’s not very easy to talk openly. For young people, if you want to talk about it, you use more metaphors. You don’t speak very clearly and directly. My father was a non-believer but he never told anybody. I wanted to deal with this also. If you want to be a writer, you want to be free to talk about everything but it’s not easy. That’s why I put this scene [in].

How much of a believer are you?

I look at it more sociologically. It’s not important for me whether I believe or not but the way of talking [about it] is very important. The scene [on religion] would be better understood by Turkish people because there are many [specific] details.

What is your approach when you start on a new film?

You want to make movies about things that you don’t know about. If you know everything about something you don’t need to make a film. You investigate and think about the unknown. The subjects [of my films] I discuss within myself also. We should not be able to decide what is correct because I don’t know myself. I think discussions should be like that.

Does your script come from such discussions between you and your co-scriptwriters?

Only one is not enough, you need to know what others think. If only one becomes dominant it’s like propaganda.

You have made a film full of quotes. Is it aimed specifically at the Turkish people at the moment?

In real life when intellectuals come together [for a discussion] they quote a lot. You use that to win the argument. That’s the reality. I do that even when I talk with my wife.

Your character goes through his own journey in the film, meets various characters and authority figures. At the end of it do you see him growing up or settling down?

Everything you do in life makes you grow up. In this case he [the young hero Sinan] has lived with a huge amount of guilty conscience for his father [Idris]. His father is the kind of guy who always laughs and wouldn’t [appear to] care. But takes him by surprise when he does, when he changes. He [Sinan] reacts to it. Life is like that. Our reactions shape us.

Tell us about the structure of the film…

It’s about father-son relationship. It’s about life. I don’t like to plot too much. I don’t like if the plot is obvious. I like to hide the plot. So I can’t say what the movie is about. It’s tricky. It’s better to say it’s about life.

Just like in Uzak (Distant) the family is a seat of conflict but you tend to look at it in continuity than as a disrupted unit…

I know these people [in the film]. I grew up there. Instinctively I know how they behave. I take my decisions according to reality. To separate is not easy. Despite many problems of the father it’s not easy to separate [from him and the family]. It’s increasing now but it’s still not easy.

Would you say something about the dream sequences — the well scene?

It’s not the dream of the father but the thought of the boy. We see the boy, then the well, we go down to his mind… It’s melancholic, about all the dark feelings. When life seems so distant, a kind of detachment from life. It symbolised that for me. I don’t like to make things clear. I want you to take out your own meanings. If it’s too clear I’d be destroying your freedom [as a viewer]. I want things to remain opaque in a certain way. For instance the discussion scenes in Dostoevsky’s Demons. You never know what he really thinks. If I understand it I am not free any more. I am guided. Then the book is shallow. [The] novel can be deepened by this balance.

In the film you get to know that no one has read the [the lead character’s] book. Are you reflecting there on your films?

When I started making films I did them with my own money. I didn’t expect anything. I went on doing it. It was the only way that suited me. Everything seems meaningless and dark very easily to me. This feeling is bigger in the good times, in the prize ceremonies for instance.

What makes a good actor? How do you guide them?

Everyone needs [their] own method. There is not one method to go by. So if anything is not working you have to change it. You have devise many methods every day. You deceive, you lie to them.

Do you enjoy working with actors?

No. Shooting is always very difficult. After shooting, editing alone, I am ok [with]. Shooting is not dependant on your mind alone. If an actor doesn’t work s/he doesn’t work. That’s why casting is so important.

Do you enjoy the process of writing?

Writing is also very difficult. I like editing, alone.

What about working with the cameraperson?

I shot the first three films myself. I know the camera. There is nothing ambiguous about it and the lighting. In acting it’s not easy to be sure.

Your early films were more silent. Do you like language more now?

I like talkie scenes but in a different [way] I like silent movies too. Maybe I will go back later to them. But I wanted to try this out. It was a kind of challenge. Literary, philosophical talks, these are risky in cinema. Normally I don’t like it in cinema but I like it in theatre. Like in Chekov, Shakespeare. It’s more difficult in cinema. [The] audience finds it more difficult to accept. If there are more dialogues you have to tone down stylistically. Dialogues tie you down. You can’t try out many artistic things.



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