London Film Festival 2018: The Wild Pear Tree, Richland Blue, Trees Down Here


Dogu Demirkol and Hazar Erguclu in The Wild Pear Tree

For all the discussion they both include and inspire, and for the length of time over which they do so, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's movies just don't seem to flag. There's barely a pause for breath in The Wild Pear Tree - though, when there is, it's wondrous - basically Ceylan and his collaborators' collective screed on the future of Turkey's Millennials and the familial ties that thus tie them to the past. These aren't exactly fresh topics in cinema, not least in the Middle Eastern cinema of this century, but Ceylan, wife and frequent co-writer Ebru, and new addition Akin Aksu (also starring in a key scene) ruminate upon them with considerable intelligence and astuteness. The story here is of an aspiring novelist, and Ceylan's premier mode of storytelling is here in words - verbal exchanges between two or more participants, entangling themselves in complex theoretical debates in vain attempts at disentangling the troubled thoughts that motivated them to ever strike up such discussions. Each new scene opens with the threat of another lengthy exchange; those that follow through on their threat often close with a sense of satisfaction at the quality of the exchange, even if rarely with any real resolution.


Yet while Ceylan and co. are more than capable of identifying and reflecting in marvellous, clear, precise detail the existential and societal malaises of their characters, their insistence on doing so at every new juncture rapidly becomes tiring to behold. There's a grinding pessimism to The Wild Pear Tree as every last major figure in this rambling affair is exposed - sooner or later - as one defined by unflattering characteristics both compelling their behaviour and resulting from it. Ceylan's intellectual remove from the reality he often perceptively recreates then affords the action the feel of a lecture delivered by someone who'd probably prefer to be somewhere else doing anything but; it's one thing to command your audience's attention through masterful filmmaking, and another to dump three hours' worth of showing off in their laps and bludgeon them into acknowledging your mastery. And anyway, The Wild Pear Tree might actually be a regression for Ceylan in the presentation of such mastery - it's barely any more than sufficient technically, while some of Gokhan Tiryaki's cinematography is bizarrely grainy and jittery, like bad DV from the 1990s.



Alongside Kevin Jerome Everson's Goddess sits another short film, Richland Blue, which I probably ought to have watched prior to the former. This is a softly disquieting work about the sleazy corruption of America's police forces, one whose apparently casual objectivity dissipates the longer the viewer fixates upon it. Everson's glances are held for uncomfortable lengths - the feeling of authority abused gradually seeping into otherwise innocuous imagery. As another piece in Everson's grand career tableau of reflecting, reclaiming and reforming the African-American image in cinema, it's a crucial, subtly incendiary element; as a work in and of itself, Richland Blue may not possess the boldness of his other elements, or perhaps just their success in communicating what boldness they may possess.


Ben Rivers takes a typically digressive look at the connection between nature and architecture in Trees Down Here, an abstract observation on Churchill College, Cambridge and its construction in the 1960s. Rivers' footage is of building plans and their progression through various conceptual stages, and of the surrounding landscape and its cool, woody appearance. It's utterly fascinating in how it implies an effect of that landscape in both inspiring that architecture and then contributing toward its refinement: it "opens and opens, rather than closing and closing". The abstraction intensifies in Rivers' approach, however, and Trees Down Here turns into a meditation on something abstract itself, thus depriving this beautiful short of its potential power. Nevertheless, this is the most connected I've felt to date to a Ben Rivers movie, and I wouldn't dare dismiss him just yet.


All of the above titles are screening at the London Film Festival, taking place presently and scheduled to end this Sunday, the 21st of October; both Richland Blue and Trees Down Here screen as part of the short film programme Today Is a Thing of the Past.

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