Note: Al Gore was not involved in the making of this film (though Judge Jesse Ataide is well aware that his review would get a lot more page views if he had been).
For anybody who is familiar with the European art house tradition, it is quite unlikely that a synopsis of Climates will inspire any accolades for originality. Consider: two attractive people, somehow romantically involved, wander aimlessly through beautiful landscapes and exotic locales, allowing unsaid words to sever the last strings of their relationship. Eventually the glamorous suffering becomes too unbearable, and individually the two set off to glamorously suffer alone. Now how many versions of this skeleton of a story have we seen on subtitled cinema screens over the years? Many. Perhaps too many?
Climates, the latest offering from critically acclaimed director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, falls unapologetically in this cinematic tradition, with the director himself stepping into the role of the self-absorbed boyfriend all too willing to give up on his relationship with a younger, vivacious woman (played by the director's wife, Ebru Ceylan). So the inevitable follow-up question is whether or not this latest variation on a very familiar theme has something new to offer. And the answer is yes—though why might not seem immediately apparent.
Many critics have invoked the name of Michelangelo Antonioni when writing about Climates, and the connection is a natural one. If Antonioni experimented and refined this particular type of ennui-saturated breakup story in such films as L'Avventura and L'Eclisse, Ceylan also seems to draw particular inspiration from Antonioni's masterful ability to use of space and architectural artifice to convey the vague, unspoken disconnection between two people when a relationship has passed its expiration date.
This is emphasized by the constant tendency on Ceylan's part to set up shots where one character is seen foreground and somewhere behind her or him the other character can be vaguely glimpsed. The faraway character is almost always seen out of focus but has an undeniable presence-and that's the point, of course. Additionally, Ceylan's range of focus jumps seamlessly between extremes, from severe close-ups of the face to picturesque location shots where a person is dwarfed by the enormity of nature or human-crafted cityscapes, another means of conveying emotional distances through physically demarcated spaces. This keen use of distance and camera placement contributes to some of the most memorable and unexpected sequences in the film, most particularly in an early scene when several lines half-mumbled in solitude transform into the actual opening of the couple's painful breakup speech.
Also quite sprawling in its scope is Ceylan's use of location and color. The film can be divided neatly into three distinct acts, with the first taking place in the over-saturated golds of the sandy ruins of an exotic Aegean vacation, which leads to the darker, harsher reality of Istanbul, and finally concludes in blinding whites of the snow of the wild, empty expanses of eastern Turkey where Ceylan's character journeys in an attempt to make amends with his estranged ex who has taken a job in the isolated locale.
In subtle, constantly surprising ways, Climates is a film of extremes, manifested in the camera composition, the use of location, and even in the story development, where the characters swing between numbing apathy to intense, almost uncomfortably sexual ferociousness, and back again with seemingly minimal motivation. Climates can also be viewed as a depicting of emotional extremes, with brief moments of reverie, sexual connection and potential reconciliation punctuated by bursts of anger, frustration and more often than not, indifference. The best moments of the film occur when these emotions are played out not through words but through the facial expressions and body language of the actors.
On this disc, released by Zeitgeist Video, Climates looks absolutely terrific. Whether it is the slightly oversaturated earth tones of the film's opening to the cold, harsh whites and blues of the expanses of snow in the film's closing minutes, the quality is uniformly good with no noticeable image defects. The audio track presents more of a challenge, as some sounds, many of them seemingly incidental, seem overemphasized to the point that even a sigh or the buzz an unseen bug can seem piercing. This might very well be an artistic decision on the filmmaker's part, however, as the unexpected use of sound is oftentimes used to poignant effect. Overall, I can find few things to fault in Zeitgeist's handling of this film.
And that extends to the bonus features as well, where Zeitgeist has assembled nearly two hours of additional material for the curious viewer to wade through. The "Making of Climates" featurette is a half-hour long assemblage of behind-the-scenes footage, rehearsal material and alternate takes. I personally like for these types of features to include commentary of some kind, but for those interested in Ceylan's filming process this is a valuable resource. Much more to my liking is the Cannes footage, which includes clips from Turkish and French television coverage of the festival as well as the official press conference. There are also separate interviews with the Ceylans in which they emphatically emphasize the film is not autobiographical and based on their own relationship, as well as discuss the creative forces at work in the development of the film. Also included is the theatrical trailer for the film's US release. Thankfully, all of this material, much of it in foreign languages, is either subtitled or simultaneously interpreted (it's not always a given!). The final extra is the ever-eloquent Manohla Dargis's review of the film that first ran in The New York Times.
If not exactly equal to Antonioni, connoisseurs of European art films with find much to savor in Ceylan's eloquent silences and striking visual style.
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Studio: Zeitgeist Films
• "The Making of Climates" Featurette
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