Turkey's elegist of existential ennui, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, comes up with his most approachable pic in "Climates," a study of a failed relationship shown largely through the eyes and mind of the middle-aged male partner. Immaculately shot and composed as always, and moving at Ceylan's usual measured pace, this one is slightly enlivened by more likable perfs and a trim 98-minute running time. Co-produced with French coin, a first for the director, pic will be manna for Ceylan's loyal band of critical admirers, feted at serious fests, but a B.O. dud in most territories.
Stylistically, there's little new here that hasn't been seen in his two previous color films, "Clouds of May" (2000) and the 2003 Cannes prize winner, "Distant." Story takes place during three seasons (summer, autumn and snowbound winter); the quality of the images is remarkable, with only one brief night shot hinting at pic's HD origins; and the soundtrack is immensely detailed, from the soft crackle of burning tobacco to the susurration of a summer breeze.
However, as in "Distant," all this technique is in the service of very little at the end of the day. Like many arthouse helmers obsessed with spiritual decay, Ceylan shows the symptoms but not the cause or diagnosis. Though the summertime segment, shot by the resort town of Kas, does much to lighten the mood, there's still an awful lot of mooning around, long silences and internalized emotions.
Film falls into three sections, each roughly half-an-hour long, starting with the central couple, university lecturer Isa (Ceylan himself) and TV art director Bahar (Ebru Ceylan, helmer's real-life wife), on vacation in Kas. Bahar is down in the dumps, and during a dinner with friends and a subsequent day by the seaside the couple's relationship fractures, with Bahar going home alone to Istanbul.
Cut to a rainy autumn in that city and Isa looks up a longtime g.f., Serap (Nazan Kesal), who appears to be partly the cause of the bust-up. At Serap's apartment, she and Isa engage in some rough sex (shown in a single long take) which seems to be a well-rehearsed feature of their on-off relationship. On a later occasion, Serap tells Isa she's heard Bahar has been working in a remote eastern part of the country.
Cut to that location during a snowy winter, and Isa tracks Bahar down in a small town where she's working with her crew on a period TV drama.
Though there's very little in the script that gives much away about his character, Ceylan makes Isa a bearable protag for most of the time, with flashes of lightness -- as in a scene with his parents (played by helmer's own parents, M. Emin and Fatma Ceylan) -- that mask the fact he's a quietly calculating man.
Most substantial of the two women is Kesal's Serap, who accepts Isa on his own terms; as Bahar, Ebru Ceylan spends most of the film staring into the middle distance or sobbing.
Lensing by Gokhan Tiryaki conjures up some remarkable vistas and cloudscapes, as well as some impressively detailed closeups (notably in the beach scene), to accompany the thin tale. But like Isa, pic remains behind a glass wall emotionally.
Film was projected on Hi-Def at Cannes.
Camera (color, HD), Gokhan Tiryaki; editors, Ayhan Ergursel, Ceylan; music, excerpts from Scarlatti piano sonata, K466; sound (Dolby Digital), Ismail Karadas, Thomas Robert, Olivier Do Huu. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 20, 2006. Running time: 98 MIN.