Climates: Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s contemplative portrait of a turbulent relationship

Its lethargic pace and long, stationary camera angles might frustrate some but Nuri Bilge Ceylan has something interesting to say – which is done more with images than with words or lengthy monologues –  in his fourth feature Climates, starring himself and his better half Ebru Ceylan as a couple in the middle of a turbulent relationship. He plays Isa, an art history professor and she plays Bahar, a television art director.

There are signs of strains showing in their relationship and this is established in the opening sequence. They are both on vacation and we see her face with a detached expression, lost in thought. It’s her face that first reveals to us that something must be wrong – she doesn’t look very happy. My mind immediately recalled Monica Vitti in the opening scene of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse. Bahar’s countenance carries the same appearance of discontent.

Not only do Nuri’s characters look like Antonioni’s, but also the framing of shots and use of vast spaces resemble the Italian master’s work. But Nuri is in no way aping his style; he has his own. A while later we learn that he is not happy with this relationship either. When she goes for a swim in the beach, he starts practicing an imaginary conversation in which he expresses his wish to break up with her. He later gets his wish and months later, we see him pursuing Serap, a woman currently in a relationship with one of his former colleagues, and was referred to in an earlier conversation with Bahar.

The fact that she is in a relationship doesn’t stop her from sleeping with Isa. Their sex is rough, the kind that almost borders on rape. It was weird enough seeing Nuri in front of the camera – he looks like the Turkish Tony Leung – but the man can act; I’ll give him that. Isa is a complicated and confused character – always unsure of what he wants to do and how to react to the turmoil – and Nuri conveys that perfectly with his face. He spends a lot of time contemplating and there comes a point where he ponders the possibility of getting Bahar back.

The shifting moods and feelings play out on their faces like shifting seasons, and I imagine that’s where the film’s title comes from. There are plenty of quiet scenes and they might seem empty and pointless to a less patient viewer; but if you are willing to make it through its short, 97-minute runtime – one should be thankful Nuri has not made this longer – you might see that the film has a sort of probing effect on you, mining your subconscious for your innermost feelings and moral stance. It’s worth watching at least once.

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