| March 1, 2007

In the magnificent opening pre-credit sequence of this quietly confident and masterful film from director Ceylan, parcelled out to an awestruck audience through precise composition and spatial placement of figure in frame is all the visual information we need to assess the troubled emotional and spiritual state of central couple Isa (director Ceylan ) an opaque university lecturer and his exasperated girlfriend Bahar, a director of series television (embodied by Ceylan’s wife, Ebru, which gives the proceedings quite an intriguing meta kick ). Without a preponderance of dialogue to determine character ( save for one quick exchange when a character’s blithe dishonesty in answering a question in order to avoid confrontation hints at great malaise), Ceylan uses every available aspect of his chosen medium to suggest a universe of unease and disappointment and anomie.
Within the looming ruins of a temple that both mocks and supports the small, self-absorbed human drama enacted upon its stony surfaces, the couple drifts into the final stages of a deteriorating relationship. Every move made and held takes on a blistering emotional charge-thus Isa’s innocuous walk out of Bahar’s sightlines, a column obscuring him from her view, seems to encompass the entirety of his thoughtlessness and selfishness, his disregard for her: Bahar’s pensive posture as she reluctantly follows Isa’s dusty expedition speaks voluminously of her mounting frustration and alienation; bodies brush against one another trepidatiously and gingerly, afraid of harder contact and the truths it brings; wilful tears fall as Bahar catches Isa from afar, a buffoon caught on a crumbling stage, a playful gesture after he stumbles hinting at an intimacy that hasn’t been wholly extinguished.
I won’t be able to convince anyone who doesn’t already have a predisposition for the pace or manners of the arthouse film that this particular entry is revelatory in any way( in fact, some will find it nothing more than a turgid challenge). But its slow accretion of detail blossoms for me into a staggeringly harrowing study of self-deception and the limits of one man’s ability to communicate. I wasn’t such a fan of Ceylan’s previous film, the acclaimed “Distant” (“Uzak”), an arid, doleful look at two aimless men lost in Istanbul, which at times felt too interior and vaguely personal (I remember summoning more feeling for the plight of a poor mouse at loose in the men’s flat than I ever did for the two human protagonists), but while this film feels very singular to this couple’s disintegration and fallout, it manages the feat of also addressing the universal complexities of any two people attempting to relate, and the details feel very dangerously truthful.
Ceylan illustrates Isa as an infuriatingly flat, passive-aggressive type. While indicating nothing, he nevertheless exerts a menacingly dominant will. It’s no wonder Bahar suffers a daydream involving Isa that starts as erotic idyll and quickly turns into a nasty image of asphyxiation. A later action of Bahar’s that at first may seem the work of an unstable individual is merely a desperate attempt to provoke an explosive display of outward emotion from glum Isa. There’s a terrifically uncomfortable seaside dinner with friends where the couple’s faultlines threaten to fully open, spewing their bilious recriminations across the table-as is, the two barely contain their mutual rage, trembling precariously on the edge of apocalypse.
Isa’s actions following his break-up with Bahar more fully reveal his darker aspects of character. His relentlessly dogged pursuit of a former lover read more as the dysfunctional urges of the stalker or rapist. The extended sequence that leads up to the sex scene, the model of which seems to be “Basic Instinct”, is charged with undercurrents of rage and sexual tease and the dark desire to control. Although not ignorant of the comic dimensions of such outrageously rough behaviour, Ceylan allows the scene to remain grounded enough in a constipated reality to avoid the slick gymnastic conniptions that destroy credibility in most other films. A later scene in which the woman initiates the sexual act is met with a resounding disconnect from Isa, which only reveals further the wellsprings of unexamined emotions residing in him.
Ceylan shows a consistent sly wit throughout the film, which for some may save it from absolute ponderousness and pomposity. He cuts straight from the sex scene to Isa’s recessive position on his mother’s sofa as he waits for her to mend his trousers, haranguing him about meeting a good girl and having a family; travelling to a remote location to seek out Bahar late in the film (another condition of his need to control, a selfish desire to somehow destroy her life), Ceylan frames Isa as bringing up the rear of a farmer’s group of cattle, a lamentable and demoralized position to which he has sunk; as Bahar and Isa tearfully speak within the cab of an equipment truck, the crew opens and closes doors with farce-like abandon, generously unaware of the distress in their midst.
While Bahar remains sympathetic to Isa (and it’s credit to Ceylan that he does invest Isa with some qualities that demonstrate why one may bother), it’s clear that she has moved on. As much as she would like to believe his confessions of change (which themselves seem to change subtly, and not to his favour, with each statement he makes), as much as she is moved that he has made the extraordinary journey to woo her, she’s too clear to see that it’s not genuine. Spending one last (chaste) night with Isa, Bahar wakes in the morning to relate a haunting and poignant dream to him, and Isa’s response defeats him-he doesn’t understand how crucial a careful and sensitive response to Bahar’s story is, that it alone can contain their salvation.
The closing shot, a beautiful and mesmerizing tableau of Bahar’s stricken face in the snowy landscape, as she listens to the roar of a jet overhead ( a sound which has momentarily halted production of a scene on the television shoot) carrying away conclusively her former lover, is a marvel. A minor irritant for all else concerned, the sound is cataclysmic and heartrending for her, and the tight shot beautifully conveys the information.
The eponymous title, then, refers not only to the atmospheric structure of the film, which takes the audience from the promise and seduction of the summer, through to the chill and weight of the winter, but to the emotional structure as well, the descending life of a man unable to open himself fully to the world. Constant, though, is a considerate sense of space in which to fully contemplate and appreciate the panoply of rich gifts on display. I emerged excited and enhanced from the sheer cinema of it.

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