Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Distant) is one of those rare directors who make three-dimensional movies without the help of special effects. Even considering that his new film, Climates, was shot on high-definition video—though it would stand up to celluloid in any Pepsi Challenge—Ceylan's work must be seen in a theater, because its tactile quality couldn't be reproduced in the average household. A photographer long before he became a director, Ceylan lets his impeccable compositions tell the stories that his sparse dialogue never suggests, and his ambient soundtrack completes the picture. Like Albert Brooks' Modern Romance by way of Michelangelo Antonioni (L'Avventura), Climates explores an on-again/off-again relationship poisoned by jealousy and obsession, but from a quiet, mesmerizing distance.
Casting himself in the lead role, Ceylan stars as a grim-faced college professor whose coarse, insensitive nature has led to the slow deterioration of his relationship with his spouse, played by Ceylan's real-life wife Ebru. While they're on holiday in Kas, a gorgeous seaside locale that seems right out of L'Avventura, their mutual hostility reaches a breaking point and they go their separate ways. Back home in Istanbul, Ceylan briefly rekindles an affair with an old mistress (Nazan Kesal), but their desultory sexual encounter leaves him unsated. After getting word that his wife has taken a TV production job in a remote, snowy mountain town, Ceylan makes an unannounced visit in an effort to persuade her to try again.
Whether Ceylan's decision to cast himself and his wife could be considered self-portraiture remains unclear, but the film is unsparing in its appraisal of masculine hang-ups and emotional brutality. Much like Brooks' Modern Romance character, the hero obsesses over his lost love, not so much because she makes him happy, but because he can't bear the thought of her with someone else. Brooks spun that psychosis for laughs, but while Ceylan does spike a few scenes with deadpan black comedy, he mostly plays it straight. Though Climates lacks Distant's haunted, poetic melancholy, it has a vivid, sensual texture that's unmistakably Ceylan's. He's one of those rare directors who doesn't need a credit for identification.