The Back Row Manifesto’s Incredibly Personal, Completely Subjective List of the Best Films of The Decade (2000-2009) will be unveiled over the course of the month of December (and now on into January). Think of it as a sort of misguided advent calendar without the little chocolate surprises. Either way, thanks for reading and please check back every day over the next few days for the full list. The introduction to the list can be found here.
We’ve hit the Top 5. Time to get a little personal, to explain this impossibly difficult task of list making… This list will be completed on Monday…
Love stories are perhaps the most clichéd form in cinema; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. Happiness, crisis, resolution; despite being a sturdy enough form to encapsulate the particulars of literally thousands of narratives, from Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers through to the recent development of man-child bromances, the way in which love is depicted on the screen is too often boiled down to romantic ideals. What is the real texture of love? How does losing a lover feel? It is not a meeting at the top of the Empire State Building, or a kiss just as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, it is not a knock on the door in a rainstorm after a long absence with all being forgiven. Love, like all human affairs, is messy and ugly, full of ego, jealousy, argument and requires a constant assessment of the self as it moves between opposition and harmony with the concerns and desires of another person.
The reason why Nuri Blge Ceylan’s devastatingly great Climates rates as one of the top movies of this decade for me is directly linked to the film’s staggeringly honest portrayal of love and loss, choice and desire, self-sacrifice and need. And that, all of it, is, as it is in all great fiction, embodied in one of the great characters that graced the screen over the past ten years; Ebru Ceylan’s Bahar, a young women in love with a cad and someone who, despite loving him and remembering better, happier times, can’t escape her own need to leave him.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates
The fact that Nuri Bilge Ceylan was able to convey that need in an almost wordless, gorgeously photographed opening 30 minutes is an achievement in and of itself, and watching this relationship slowly fracture and disintegrate before our eyes, beat by beat, feeling by feeling, remains one of the most impressive and moving feats of filmmaking I can remember. It may be revealing too much, but I will say, I know how both of these lovers feel, how badly the ego is bruised by recognizing your inability to give a lover what they need and how much it hurts to need more and be denied. That said, whereas most love stories look for ways to reconcile those tensions by falsely imposing the ideas of bad timing or circumstance or fate or misunderstanding between two characters we are supposed to like, Climates refuses to bullshit, exposing the reality of an irreconcilable romantic situation, warts and all.
Of course, Bahar’s dilemma and hurt is set in opposition to the callous, sexually destructive Isa, played by Bilge Ceylan himself, and it is Isa’s male perspective, especially in a controversial scene in which he has very rough sex with another woman, that not only calls the film’s sexual politics into question, but therein realizes one of the great truths absent from most romances; an honest portrayal of fucked up male desire. Romantic dramas and break-up films have almost exclusively been geared toward women or toward a middle ground between male and female fantasy that watching male sexual aggression and female pleasure in that physicality seems almost transgressive, and one of the most difficult and powerful aspects of Climates is trying to reconcile Isa and Bahar, both of them as complicated and often unlikable as anyone you might overhear breaking up at the table next to you in a small café.
Of course, none of this heartache would amount to much had Bilge Ceylan not made an exquisitely beautiful film. The landscapes of Turkey, the grey clouds, falling snow, searing sunlight and muddy roads, combine to lend something ancient, eternal to the film, the lives of a pair of messed up lovers crashing against the rocks of history and nature. There are some moments of amazing levity, as when Isa and Bahar sit in the back of TV production van while he proposes a reconciliation, and devastating poetry, as a few hours later Bahar rises from bed, regretting a momentary weakness, the light from a single window illuminating the room. Like all great art, the detail of the performances, narrative photography and tone combine in perfect harmony, creating as masterpiece of broken hearted longing, a wish to move on to something happier as you doubt it might ever arrive.
Much was made upon the film’s release of Bilge Ceylan’s debt to the great Michelangelo Antonioni, and while Climates does indeed wear its debt to films like L’avventura and L’Ecclise as a badge of honor, it also uniquely and thoroughly original in its handling of love, loss, aesthetics and masculinity. Climates is breathtakingly honest and beautiful, a love story about the end of love that felt tied directly to my own experiences. Utilizing a genre that constantly fails to find true feeling in its projection of our collective romantic fantasies, Nuri Bilge Ceylan broke my heart into a thousand pieces. And I loved it.
23. Quiet City by Aaron Katz
22. Mutual Appreciation by Andrew Bujalski
21. Frownland by Ronald Bronstein
20. Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola
19. Up The Yangtze by Yung Chang
18. Platform by Jia Zhang-Ke
17. Tarnation by Jonathan Caouette
16. Lilya 4-Ever by Lukas Moodysson
15. Far From Heaven/ I’m Not There by Todd Haynes
14. Sideways by Alexander Payne
13. Into Great Silence by Philip Gröning
12. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner by Zacharias Kunuk
11. There Will Be Blood by Paul Thomas Anderson
10. Zodiac by David Fincher
9. Beau Travail/ 35 Shots Of Rum by Claire Denis
8. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly by Julian Schnabel
7. Time Out by Laurent Cantet
6. Mulholland Dr. by David Lynch