Thoughtful, contemplative, taciturn: These are words to describe the Turkish drama Climates. If you’re in the mood. If not, then “slooooooooooow” will suffice.
This intimate, quietly voiced character study consists largely of static shots in which characters glare angrily at each other, stare morosely at one another and generally don’t say much of anything. The film, a one-man-band effort by writer/director/producer/cinematographer/editor/star Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Clouds of May, Distant), is a spiritual cousin to the works of Texan Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The New World), a pioneer in the cinematic art of watching grass grow. This is not meant as a criticism, merely a caveat. If you’re looking for action, Climates isn’t the film for you.
Ceylan casts himself as Isa, a middle-aged university instructor still futzing around--way too late in life it would seem--with his archaeological thesis. As the film gets underway, Isa is on vacation with his girlfriend Bahar (Ebru Ceylan, who we can reasonably assume is sleeping with her director). Bahar is younger than Isa and works as art director for a minor Turkish TV series. What’s clear, almost immediately--despite the lack of dialogue--is that these two are having a miserable time. (Perhaps Bahar’s constant sobbing is a clue.) Amid the glorious Mediterranean sun and sand, Isa and Bahar only seem to be interested in carping on one another. Seeing the writing on the wall, Isa takes the somewhat inevitable step of breaking up with Bahar.
The film’s thin narrative consists of basically three small segments: Isa breaks up with Bahar; Isa booty-calls a spicy ex-girlfriend back home in Istanbul; Isa hunts down Bahar in the wintry mountains for a reconciliation.
A photographer before he became a filmmaker (ditto for Terrence Malick), Ceylan certainly knows how to compose an immaculately evocative landscape. Shot on digital video (not so you’d ever notice), the film looks like an Ansel Adams photo brought to life by Michelangelo Antonioni (whose 1960 classic L’Avventura prefigures some of Climates’ moody silence). There’s a nice symmetry to the picture as a whole (starting on the sun-streaked beach, ending in the snow-blanketed mountains). If the characters can’t speak, then the scenery certainly can, making the film poetic and melancholy in the extreme.
Ceylan’s script is unflaggingly honest in its character construction: He’s half a jerk, she’s partially psycho. Unfortunately, all this brutal realism makes it somewhat difficult to sympathize with our couple at hand. Ceylan is obsessive in his chronicling of modern spiritual ennui; but like so many art house directors, he’s more interested in the symptoms than the cause. Minimalist, artistically constructed and just a bit too remote, Climates makes for a lovely but emotionally chilly anti-romance.