Nuri Bilge Ceylan is no ordinary director. This fact becomes evident from the very first few frames of his "Climates" (2006), a rather languidly paced, wonderfully minimalist piece of work. We come across an odd looking couple, a young woman, Bahar (Ebru Ceylan) and her visibly older partner (?) Isa (Nuri Bilge Ceylan). It is not clear if they are married or engaged or just living in. They are on a holiday somewhere and Isa is busy photographing some ruins, while Bahar looks on with odd stares. The ambient sounds of buzzing bees and chirping birds add to the mood of the lazy afternoon and the seemingly laid back attitude of the couple on screen. Only just before the title credits appear, there is a long take of Bahar staring right at you (although in the film it’s Isa she is looking at). And suddenly, tears start rolling down. Clearly, all is not well.
It is soon established that the couple are in a troubled relationship. They are out of love. Bahar seems trapped and suffocated in this relationship. This part is highlighted in a real neat dream sequence of a blurred image of Isa smothering Bahar with sand as she lies on the beach. And later, Isa, who is also aware of the distance between them, rehearses lines to convey that they should probably part ways. These two sequences and one awkward dinner table conversation with a friend quickly impress you. You instantly sit up and take notice. Perhaps you are watching yet another minimalist European masterwork.
If only the same sentiment stayed on after the first 50 odd minutes, after which it appears that Ceylan probably exhausted the greatest written scenes in his visibly unaccomplished script, which simply isn’t potent enough in the first place. The plot, if any, merely delves on Bahar and Isa’s break-up and Isa’s attempt to reconcile. That’s all you can really write about it. The deficient script wouldn’t matter much, if all of the handful of characters that appear on screen make up for the lack of substantial meat in the writing. But the focus is mostly only on Isa, while the other players, although introduced, appear in some important scenes, but aren’t much looked into. We only know them superficially.
For example, sometime later, we are introduced to Serap (Nazan Kirilmis), apparently an ex of Isa. Isa runs into Serap, old romance/lust rekindles, and he invites himself into her home, in spite of the fact that she is now carrying on with a friend of his! Serap and Isa stare at each other awkwardly for a long while and exchange small talk about their respective relationships. Serap smokes her cigarettes with elan, and in the moments of silence we can actually hear the sound of smoke being drawn in every puff till the cigarette burns out. Just Lovely! But suddenly something happens that makes you wonder what kind of man Isa really is!
This is further corroborated in a sequence in the snow-clad eastern Turkey, to where Isa travels to find his lost love, Bahar, in an attempt to win her back! How fickle can one get? He meets a friendly cabbie, who doesn’t ask much except to be sent a photograph he takes of him against a snowy landscape. Isa agrees and the cabbie writes down his address on a piece of paper. But later, very nonchalantly, he throws the piece of paper in an ash tray in a coffee shop! One wonders if the only character that carries so much weight in the script should come across as so unlikeable that you would hardly even care about him much.
"Climates" had potential to completely succeed only in scenes like these that highlight some behavioral traits of Ceylan’s characters, since plot-wise he didn’t have much to go on. More talent, though, is invested in capturing breathtakingly beautiful landscapes across Turkey in some of the finest cinematography this reviewer had the pleasure of coming across. Add to that, some of the greatest sound design, capturing ambient sounds that you simply fall in love with, and wonderfully natural acting that you can’t forget for a while.
The title, apart from the physical change of seasons we see on the screen, also alludes to the ups and downs in human relationships. But more so, it is symbolic of the fickleness of a human being, his shifting inclinations that change with time. "Climates" shows us in its subtle, simple narrative, how a man can break up, stray and then attempt to make up again! "Climates", thus succeeds on a considerable level, as a romantic mood piece. Only it ends up being a little too simple and a tad hollow for a film trying to bring out the complicated functioning of the human mind.
There certainly is sheer grace in the mechanics of "Climates", and Ceylan proves that he has the skill for the aesthetics. Only one wishes there was more heart in it too.