The weather turns from hot to cold in Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Climates," an intimate drama that views the deterioration of a relationship from the inside out. Moving from summer through fall and concluding in winter, it's minimalist cinema that turns on subtle emotion rather than narrative and demands the audience's full attention.
The film opens on the lightly freckled face of a pretty young woman, her skin pressed against the cool marble of an ancient ruin as she gazes into the sunlight. The woman is Bahar (played by Ebru Ceylan, the wife of the filmmaker) and her face betrays an intrinsic sadness. Within minutes her face is streaked with tears as she watches her middle-aged boyfriend, Isa, a salt-and-pepper-haired academic, ponder the mysteries of the antiquities.
Rumpled in that boyishly disheveled way that is sometimes appealing to coeds, Isa is played with stoic aloofness by the filmmaker. It's an intensely underplayed performance that makes an unlikable character absorbing. The exchanges between Isa and Bahar are laconic and plaintive. They bide their time between moments of lashing out at one another. The dissolution of their affair is akin to the slow, sadistic removal of a scab on an infected wound. And wounded the two are, but director Ceylan prefers to let the reasons remain elliptical, forcing us to project our own hurts into the void.
Isa exhibits little passion for anything, and the two most telling scenes about him are ones that don't involve Bahar. In one, he inflicts violent, uncomfortable (and almost painfully comic) sex on another woman, Serap (Nazan Kesal). In another, he pays a visit to his mother to have her mend his trousers. He's no more tender with these women than with Bahar; the scenes mark him as a user.
With Bahar, who works as an art director in television, we experience her pain as it plays out on Ebru Ceylan's expressive face. There is a dazed, submissive quality to her unhappiness that speaks volumes about her inert response to Isa's subtly cruel lack of attentiveness.
The script wastes little time on exposition, preferring to allow the camera to prowl the faces and bodies of the characters for clues to their relationship. Visually, the director easily moves between the broad, comforting images of a landscape painter to the attention to raw form and detail of a portraitist. The languid tone of the film is enhanced by the dawdling camera as it captures both serene vistas and the near-microscopic focus on character. Quiet moments are further etched with emotion by a finely tuned sound design in which the sizzle of a cigarette sounds like the menacing hiss of a rattlesnake.
The most sublime shot in the film comes toward the end and encompasses both the intimacy and cosmic malaise the story represents. In it, a jet soars high across a sky seen through a scrim of falling snow before disappearing. It seems to sum up not only the chronic loneliness that afflicts us all at times, but also the interconnectivity that we crave.
MPAA rating: Unrated
A Zeitgeist Films release. Writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Producer Zeynep Ozbatur. Director of photography Gokhan Tiryaki. Editors Ayhan Ergursel, Ceylan. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. In Turkish with English subtitles.
Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; Laemmle's One Colorado, 42 Miller Alley (inside plaza, Fair Oaks at Union Avenue), Pasadena, (626) 744-1224; Laemmle's Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino (818) 981-9811.