As the seasons change from summer to winter, the weather from hot to cold, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s terse, artful and magnificently composed “Climates” observes the gradual disintegration of a relationship, from X to Y. Languorous, sensual and richly textured, “Climates” is a film of few words that is more concerned with the subtle interplay of emotions than narrative.
His fifth feature, “Climates” proves that internationally renowned writer-director Ceylan is as excellent in front of the camera as he is behind it. In his latest film, the Turkish filmmaker stars as Isa, a graying, superficially winsome (but ultimately immature) academic. Ceylan gives a superbly understated performance, managing to make a rather unlikable character engaging.
The film begins with Isa and his younger girlfriend Bahar (played by Ceylan’s wife, Ebru Ceylan) on a summer road trip. The leisurely opening is set amid crumbling ruins, and as Isa stumbles around the broken marble pillars he remains completely unaware of the tears that begin to course down Bahar’s freckled, contemplative and expressive visage. That night during dinner with friends, they drink too much wine and Isa’s impatience and condescension rend the cool night air. When Bahar laughs at him, her voice is riddled with spite.
Bahar returns to Istanbul alone, and the rest of the film follows Isa through the ensuing fall and winter seasons, during which time his reticence, aloofness and general emotional detachment become evident. Little seems to arouse Isa’s passion, save for the almost comically violent, uncomfortable and raucous bout of sex across a hardwood floor that he inflicts on another lover, Serap (Nazan Kesal). The absurdity and questionable comedy of this scene distracts from the intricate choreography and camera work, the subtle but loaded imagery. And it is during this sequence, along with a brief lull in which Isa visits his mother to have her mend his trousers (which he ripped during his energetic encounter with Serap), that viewers gain the most insight into Isa’s character. Interestingly, both are scenes in which Isa interacts with women other than Bahar.
“Climates” is, at its most basic, a story about a man and a woman. But it is also an exploration of the ways in which we isolate ourselves from others and a rumination on existential isolation (a theme common to much of Ceylan’s work). Ceylan holds his shots longer than most contemporary filmmakers, his lingering camera work contributing to the film’s languid tone. Such an aesthetic approach allows viewers to fully engage with the images on screen, providing ample time to explore Ceylan’s exquisite compositions and recognize the myriad subtleties taking place. Few words are spoken, but the quiet cinematography underscores the infinite meaning that is communicated through the merest of glances or a slight change in a character’s breathing rhythm. Quiet movements are imbued with emotion by an exceptionally precise sound design in which the sound of Isa stroking Bahar’s hair becomes uncomfortably grating.
The film offers near-microscopic portraits of Isa and Bahar, though Ceylan wastes little time providing backstory or exposition. Instead, the camera focuses on Isa and Bahar’s faces and bodies, searching them for clues. Ceylan never reveals why Isa and Bahar are so troubled, forcing us to project our own pain onto their sorrowful story.
It is unfortunate that such an elegant and beautiful film will go unnoticed by most. Compelling, meditative and refreshingly adult, “Climates” expertly balances its simultaneous explorations of our chronic (often self-induced) loneliness and the connection we all crave.