Nuri Bilge Ceylan: Melancholy poet of his ‘lonely Turkey’
ISTANBUL - AFP
Wary of the limelight but one of the most prodigiously successful directors ever at Cannes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan has emerged as Turkey’s top modern filmmaker, with his slow-moving but piercing examinations of his homeland’s melancholy soul.
Bringing his sixth feature film, “Ahlat Ağacı” (The Wild Pear Tree), to Cannes, which had its gala premiere on May 18, Ceylan is a specialist of slow-moving cinema, with images filled with silence but illuminated by glorious images of Anatolian and other landscapes.
Ceylan’s fame has come against one of the most turbulent periods in the history of modern Turkey, marked by disasters, terror attacks and a failed coup. But the filmmaker has steered away from overt political commentary in his films and also from airing his opinions in the media in Turkey or abroad.
His win for “Winter Sleep” came days after 301 workers were killed in the Soma mine disaster in 2014.
And the mysteriously atmospheric whodunnit, for some admirers still his greatest achievement, “Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da” (“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”) netted Ceylan the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2011. And then in 2014 “Winter Sleep” won him the top prize.
“There is as much hope in my characters as there is in real life,” he once said.
Born in Istanbul on January 26, 1959, Ceylan’s interest in cinema came during his university years. But it was not until he was in his 30s that he studied film at Istanbul’s Mimar Sinan University after initially reading chemical then electrical engineering. Ceylan quit the film course after two years and started the short film “Koza” in late 1993. Throughout his career he also earned money through commercial photographs, and his first feature film was “Kasaba” (“The Small Town”) in 1997.
After his 2014 win for “Winter Sleep,” inspired by the short stories of Chekhov, he told journalists his motivation was “generally the darkness; to search and trying to understand the dark side of my soul.”
The writing process with his wife, Ebru, is no less dramatic. Describing the process to write “Winter Sleep,” she said the experience was “very intense” and the two had “violent quarrels.” But, she added: “I believe we work fruitfully together.”