Monday, 19 February 2007

Climates (Turkey/France, 2006, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

Bravely casting himself and his wife as a couple whose relationship is rapidly dissolving, Ceylan’s ‘Climates’ is the most painfully honest and harrowing film anyone is likely to see this year. Thankfully, it’s also likely to be one of the best. We first meet Isa and Bahar on holiday, and we learn that it’s the first time that they have been away together for quite some time, which he blames upon their mutual work commitments (he’s a lecturer, and she’s a television producer). Preoccupied with photographing some ancient ruins, it’s natural for Bahar and us watching to think that he would rather be doing this than spending time with her. She wanders, sits on a hill, and the camera remains transfixed upon her face for a few minutes until a tear falls. Innocuous conversations between them, even when in the company of others, turn into arguments, but neither of them seem willing to try to save what’s left of their relationship. Lying on the beach, she wakes to hear Isa telling her that he loves her, but it is a dream. Is it simple enough to suggest that all Bahar needs is a sign of love or commitment from Isa, or is there more to it? Bahar’s tears on the hill gave the impression she knew their relationship was over, and Isa knows this too, and practices a break-up speech as Bahar swims. As he turns his head though, she is sitting next to him. What occurs is not an amicable and mutual split, but a clean break. When he mentions that “we can still be friends”, she replies “we don’t have to be”, and when he says he will call her, she tells him not to. Her return to Istanbul does not disturb him; Isa merely returns to photographing local landmarks.

This third of the film comprised the ‘Summer’ segment. Moving into Autumn, we follow Isa’s newly acquired single status. In a particularly difficult scene to watch, he starts an affair with the girlfriend of one of his friend’s, and the first sexual encounter between them makes for quite uncomfortable viewing. This affair is quite futile and short lived, so what purpose did it serve? Did Isa want to ‘work’ Bahar out of his system and prove that he could move on? Did he envy the apparent happiness his friend and his girlfriend had, and wanted to sabotage it? Interestingly, he encourages a colleague of his to deal with his fiancée in a rather cruel fashion in order to ‘keep her in line’. Isa’s misogyny and malice seems to be born out of some wider insecurities. By Winter, Isa realises that he made a mistake leaving Bahar, and tracks her down in a remote village, filming. Claiming to be visiting some nearby ruins, so he doesn’t have to admit the true reasons, he nevertheless tries to convince Bahar to return to Istanbul with him. Though she tells him “it’s too late”, she visits him at his hotel in the middle of the night. Just as we think they might resolve their differences, she asks him whether he had slept with other women during their time apart, and that she wants the answer to be the truth. He denies he has, but we know she believes differently. The lie is worse than any other betrayal, and when she is filming the next day, and a plane flies overhead, we know Isa is on this plane, and that their relationship is irreconcilable and over for good.

Isa and Bahar are two people who don’t seem to know what they want, and don’t seem to be able to make each other happy. ‘Climates’ focuses on the aftermath of their relationship through the perspective of Isa. We never really learn about what Bahar wants from him, though her dream gives the impression that she wanted some degree of commitment, which Isa seemed unable or unwilling to offer. Perhaps Isa’s problem is passivity. We find out that he is working on a thesis that has been unfinished for many years, and when Bahar covers his eyes as he rides his motorcycle, that could be seen as an attempt to elicit some reaction from him, or to jolt him into action. After his unsatisfying affair reaches its natural end, Isa’s tracking down of Bahar seems a significant and positive act, yet this is not enough for her. Has she moved on in a way that he has not? Seeing him again hurts, as it naturally would, but tries to dissuade him from pursuing her, and the night which she visits his hotel room might be nothing more than just discovering once and for all whether this is any kind of future for them. His denial of sleeping with other women justifies her caution. Quite how a happily married couple managed to capture and portray such mutual resentment so convincingly is a mystery, but is one of the many staggering achievements in this film. With a background in photography, Nuri is able to make ‘Climates’ look brilliant, with the Turkish scenery and weather exploited perfectly. However it is more than this; it’s a magnificent account of the aftermath of a relationship, as frank and brutal as it could ever be possible to achieve.

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