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Uneasy Ottomans 

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates takes the temperature of a failing marriage

Wednesday, Nov 8 2006
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Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates is about the winds of change that blow through seasons and marriages. It begins with a woman, Bahar, perched atop a hillside in the Turkish resort town of Kas, while her husband, Isa, explores the ruins below. It is a beautiful day, and this vacation is long overdue, having been too many times postponed due to Bahar’s schedule as the art director on a television series and Isa’s as a university professor. Yet, as she watches him, slowly, almost imperceptibly she begins to cry inside. That night, they will quarrel during dinner with friends. (“Don’t worry, they enjoy seeing us miserable,” she assures him.) And before the vacation has ended, on a stretch of deserted beach that is like one of those paradisiacal oases that peek out from the pages of travel-agency brochures, he will suggest that they should try living apart for a while.

Climates is the fourth feature film by Ceylan, who won two major prizes at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for the exquisite Distant, and like his others, it’s something of a family affair — only this time, instead of casting his relatives in the leading roles, Ceylan has cast himself and his real-life wife, Ebru, as Isa and Bahar. And if, in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, such a decision might foster a mood of lurid home-movie voyeurism, both Ceylans are such commanding and subtly expressive performers that any charges of nepotism here are as erroneous as in the storied collaborations of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. This is also the first movie Ceylan has shot in high-definition video, which lends the images such startling clarity that it is possible to identify the individual beads of sweat that form on Bahar’s bosom as it bakes beneath the sweltering Kas sun. Yet the things Ceylan sees in sharpest relief lie beyond the reach of any digital camera.

I am talking about the hairline fissures that can form in even the most seemingly rock-solid relationship, and how such a relationship might end, without hysterics and by mutual agreement of both parties, for no reason other than that it has simply run its course. Such ideas are hardly fashionable for movies at a time when the Jennifer Aniston–Vince Vaughn The Break-Up is what passes as sophisticated grown-up entertainment, and I suspect that Climates will not be easy viewing for those who feel marooned in long-term partnerships, or maybe for any of us who have known the suddenness with which love can turn to revulsion. Of course, the same could be said of Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage or Alan Parker’s Shoot the Moon or Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, and Climates merits a place alongside them in any inventory of the screen’s wise and disquieting portraits of marital collapse.

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But there is something you will see in Climates that is not to be found in any of those other films. Back in Istanbul, some months after that day on the beach, Isa stands longingly outside the apartment of a former mistress (the fiery Nazan Kesal), whom he has just run into (with her current boyfriend) in a bookstore. After thinking about it for a while, she opens the door to him, and what follows can only be described as the most awkward and berserk and sensationally unrestrained movie sex scene since the ones in Last Tango in Paris — a clumsy ballet of ripped clothes and bodies slamming against furniture that shudders with violent passion and the sense of two lonely, desperate souls connecting out of some irrepressible, primal need.

Not long after that, Isa begins to think he may have behaved in haste, that perhaps he and Bahar should give things another go. So he travels to Ishakpasa, where she is working, and their reunion there, amid the flurries of midwinter, is something beyond words. The shades of disgust, longing, forgiveness and resignation that flash across both lovers’ faces are like the storm clouds that interrupt a placid spring day and then, just as quickly, disappear — the whole complex history of woman and man condensed into a few sublime seconds of screen time. With that come no easy answers or tidy resolutions, but as Bahar literally fades from our view and an airplane that may or may not be carrying Isa streaks across a brilliant sky, we’re filled with the melancholic reminder that, in life as in nature, each ending brings with it another new beginning.

CLIMATES | Written and directed by NURI BILGE CEYLAN | Produced by ZEYNEP ÖZBATUR | Released by Zeitgeist Films | At Music Hall, Town Center 5, One Colorado

Reach the writer at sfoundas@villagevoice.com

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