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Love goes cold
A UK region 2 DVD review of CLIMATES / IKLIMLER by Slarek
 

There's a moment in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates [Iklimler] that should strike a chord with anyone who's stayed in a failing relationship past the point when both parties should have called it quits. Sitting outside with friends after a dinner, middle-aged university lecturer Isa observes that the temperature has dropped and asks his younger girlfriend Bahar if she is cold. She tells him she's fine, an innocuous and everyday exchange you might think, but not for this pair. For Isa that response is a loaded one, a verbal face-slap that he is being dared to respond to. Who knows, maybe it is. As a result it takes just a minute for him to move from 'Aren't you cold?' to 'Can't we go anywhere without you making problems?' When couples have reached this stage, that's all it takes to kick things off.

Climates begins with this relationship already in its death throes. Isa and Bahar are on holiday, a normal couple visiting historical ruins in that way tourists do. As Isa stays to take pictures, Bahar walks up a hill and sits down to watch him and the we lock in on her face. Isa falls over and she smiles, but her expression then slowly dissolves into one of barely controlled despair. Their drive back to the hotel is similarly suggestive, as Isa sleeps and Bahar shoots him glances that range from amused to weary. By the time they get to the above mentioned meal, it's clear that something is not right between them.

If you like your plots complex and your narratives fast moving and packed with incident then the cinema of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is probably not for you. I've read a small number of reviews of his Cannes Grand Jury Prize winner Uzak that complained about its slow place and lack of drama, and it always seemed to me that the reviewers in question were looking at the film without really watching it. Ceylan tells small, personal stories in a subtle and unhurried but arrestingly cinematic manner. In his films, landscapes can be as expressive as faces and both are used to telling and poetic effect, the dialogue kept to a waste-free minimum.

This technique is employed to particularly powerful effect in two early scenes of Climates. In the first, the sunbathing Bahar wakes from a bad dream (which provides a brief round-up of the degeneration of her relationship with Isa, a touch literal in its symbolism but effective nonetheless) and walks down the beach to sit and stare out to sea. The gap this places between her and Isa seems to say it all, and it's an image that will later be recalled by a holiday brochure photograph that may be instrumental in sending Isa in pursuit of the then departed Bahar. As Bahar gets up to swim it's Isa's turn to watch and wrestle with his feelings. He even begins to rehearse the inevitable break-up speech, which in a superbly executed reveal switches midway to the real thing, a civilised sounding agreement undercut by repressed resentment.

In the scene that follows, the two are travelling by motorbike along a cliff top road. Isa is driving, but the camera once again locks in on Bahar, whose troubled facial expressions and aggrieved stares at the back of her boyfriend's head speak with a clarity that words would only make clumsy. The sudden and unexpected culmination of this ride, which I have no intention of revealing here, tells us a lot about the buried sadness and anger of both, feelings that briefly resurface as Bahar prepares to head home alone by coach – "I'll call you when I'm back in Istanbul," Isa offers. "Don't," is Bahar's curt reply. We're left to decide for ourselves what the back story is to this break-up with only the merest suggestion to guide us. Their past is rarely discussed and never in any detail – only a brief mention of "the Serup incident" hints at a reason for the couple's current discord.

From this point on it's Isa who takes centre stage, and it becomes clear that his hesitance to end the relationship may well have been driven by an underlying uncertainty about what he actually wants. An attempt to re-awaken a past affair with the aforementioned Serup comes uncomfortably close to rape, an aggressive reassertion of his masculinity in the face of a rejection he participated in and may now be unsure of. When Serup later becomes the sexual aggressor, Isa appears to have lost interest – is he now regretting his decision or is he beginning to understand the collective pain he may have caused Bahar?

There are no big themes or startling revelations here, no clever monologues for indie film fans to quote at parties, and Isa is not an initially likeable or sympathetic main character. And yet the experience of breaking up from a relationship whose staleness has become painful, the uncertainty, self-confusion and resentment that surrounds this decision, is so accurately and vividly captured that he is always an interesting and believable one.

The use of wide shots, landscape and seasonal extremes – the scorching sun of the opening contrasts starkly with inhospitable snow of later scenes – is as evocative as it was in Uzak, but Ceylan's secret weapon here is his increased use of facial close-ups, creating an intimacy with the characters that transcends any problem we may have with their behaviour or attitudes and allowing us to feel for them and engage with their emotional state. Ceylan's decision to cast himself and his wife Ebru in the lead roles risks accusations of self-indulgence* but the evidence in his favour is right up there on the screen – both he and Ebru are models of emotional turmoil buried beneath masks of crumbling self control, probed in close-up detail by Gökhan Tiryaki's excellent digital camerawork, images as richly film-like as I've seen from Hi-Def.

Climates is still going to prove too low-key for some, but in the face of the histrionics and clichés usually associated with such cinematic explorations of relationships in decline, I found such restraint most welcome. I was a big fan of Uzak, but was even more captivated by Climates, a film of cinematic beauty and economy, of genuine and perceptive emotional depth encased in a shell of deceptive narrative simplicity. A few nights ago I'd just started watching it for the second time when my girlfriend dropped in for a brief hello and a glass of wine. She'd only intended to stay for 20 minutes but ended up rooted to the sofa for the rest of the film. "It's odd," she remarked, "nothing much happens, and yet I couldn't stop watching it." That's as tidy a summary of the film's hold as I've encountered.

sound and vision

Climates was shot on High Definition in a range of potentially problematic lighting and weather conditions, from bright sunlight to dimly light night interiors to bleak snowscapes, but the format copes with all of them impressively and the transfer here does full justice to that. Sharpness and contrast are excellent and there is no obvious digital noise. There are a couple of burnouts on skies, but the snow scenes are very well captured, with none of the detail loss you might expect from digital. The framing is aproximately 1.95:1 and the picture is anamorphically enhanced.

The soundtrack is Dolby 2.0 only, but the intimate nature of the story never cries out for anything more. Clarity and dynamic range are very good throughout, and the recording and mix create a strong sense of location and atmosphere.

extra features

Interview with Nuri Bilge Ceylan (25:52)
A consistently interesting interview with director Ceylan that covers most of the hoped-for topics, including the development of the story, working with HD for the first time ("Film is dead for me"), the locations, the handling of the sex scene, the locations and more. He also, inevitably, responds to the suggestions that the film was autobiographical and expresses a preference for personal over political films. The interview is conducted in English.

Interview with Ebru Ceylan (14:08)
Ebru discusses the development of the project, her husband's working methods and the experience of working with him, her own performance and her ambitions for her own film. Again this is useful stuff, conducted in Turkish with English subtitles.

Making of Climates (37:54)
A behind-the-scenes featurette that plays almost like footage from the Sundance Channel's Anatomy of a Scene, with the shooting of three short sequences observed in comment-free detail, including multiple takes using different actors on one shot that never made it to the final cut.

Trailers are included both for Climates (1:38) and Ceylan's earlier Clouds of May (1:07), which is part of Artificial Eye's 2-disc set, Nuri Bilge Ceylan – The Early Works.

Turkey Cinemascope
A collection of strikingly composed photographs taken by Ceylan when scouting locations for the film, which were exhibited in the Olivier exhibition foyer at the National Theatre to coincide with the release of this film.

Finally, there is a Nuri Bilge Ceylan Filmography and Ebru Ceylan Biography.

summary

It's taken me quite a while to write this review and its not just because I'm overloaded with work – despite the film's simple beauty I found it hard to get a handle on just why it exerts such a hold and I'm still not sure I have. The best advice I can give is to see for yourself, and though I'm willing to bet that while you don't have to have been through such a break-up yourself to connect to the characters the way I did, it probably helps.

Artificial Eye have delivered a fine DVD here, the quality of the transfer matched by some interesting extra features. It's a personal choice, sure, but recommended nonetheless.



* Inevitably this decision has also led to Ceylan having to field repeated questions about whether this is an autobiographical work, something the director has always denied (the fact that Isa's parents are played by Ceylan's own real mother and father doesn't exactly help). Apparently he and Ebru were scouting locations with a video camera and filming each other when it occurred to him that would be capable of playing the lead roles themselves and the story was developed from there.

Climates
Iklimler

Turkey / France 2006
98 mins
director
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
starring
Ebru Ceylan
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Nazan Kirilmis
Mehmet Eryilmaz
Arif Asçi

DVD details
region 2
video
1.95:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
languages
Turkish
subtitles .
English
extras
Interview with Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Interview with Ebru Ceylan
Making-of featurette
Trailers
Photos
Biographies
distributor
Artificial Eye
release date
28 May 2007
review posted
19 June 2007

See all of Slarek's reviews