Breaking up may be hard to do, but at least the estranged couple in Climates will have some cracking holiday snaps once the tears have dried. Although the film is not much of an advertisement for relationships, the Turkish tourist board couldn't hope for a better plug. It's a cliché of art-house cinema that the landscapes get more attention than the cast. But the actor/writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who made a strong impression with his dry comedy Uzak (2002), is not reverent towards his gorgeous locations. For him, a close-up of an actor's face is just as spectacular as the snowy terrain around Mount Ararat, or the ruins of Ishak Pasa. I imagine that's what he told his wife, Ebru Ceylan, who plays the female lead, Bahar. She gets enough adoring close-ups to excuse her husband from buying Valentine's Day presents for the next decade.
Climates is a family affair. The director casts himself as the dull, nagging university professor Isa. As the film begins, he and Bahar are holidaying in Kas, where they are experiencing allergic reactions to one another. Bahar argues with Isa over dinner, and dreams that she is being buried alive. Isa is frustrated by her refusal to be sensible - he complains when she falls asleep in the noon sun, or won't wear a jacket when it's cold. It is fair to say the magic has leaked out of their relationship.
Isa returns alone to Istanbul, where he gets on with work, mooches around town and sleeps with an old flame. As winter draws in, he hears that Bahar is in eastern Turkey, and flies out there with the intention of tracking her down and promising her the earth. The characters' motivations are kept so well disguised up to this point that we're surprised he is even thinking about her. And then, in a simple shot of Bahar standing in the snow looking forlorn, we understand. Suddenly the question, "Why does he want her back?" is replaced by, "Why did he ever let her go?"
This may not be the most complex role ever written for a woman - if you had to name Bahar's defining characteristics they would be: a) perfection and b) a tendency to look fabulous in knitwear. But Climates conveys acutely the sensation of a romance in disrepair, with its extremes of moping and hoping; by the end of it, you feel as if you've lived through the break-up, and the attempts at reconciliation, along with Isa and Bahar. It's a moving and exceptionally wise film.
As someone whose acquaintance with jazz began and ended with buying Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, listening to it once, and then putting it on the shelf for all eternity, I was prepared to be flummoxed by the documentary My Name Is Albert Ayler. In fact, it's the familiar story of an artist living in poverty and only posthumously earning the respect he craved in his lifetime.
Ayler was an African-American avant-garde saxophonist with a habit of talking in gibberish ("It can only be about what it is, until it's about something else") and a large tuft of white hair dangling from his chin, as if a handful of tumbleweed had got snagged in his beard. Despite being championed by John Coltrane, who requested that Ayler perform at his funeral, he was found dead in the East River of New York in 1970, aged 34. "He played as if his life depended upon it," observes Bernard Stollman, the first person to sign Ayler. "It probably did."
This Swedish-made film isn't assembled with much finesse - the padding provided by endless driving shots suggests there wasn't enough material to fill the running time. But the story pretty much tells itself. Ayler's brief career started on the "free jazz" scene in Stockholm in the early Sixties, where his abrasive playing was marginally more outrageous than his collection of leather suits. He probably didn't win many friends by comparing himself to Picasso whenever anyone objected to his playing style, or by telling his girlfriend that she ranked second in his life after his saxophone. Luckily, charisma was high on his list of attributes, and what little footage there is of him smouldering in a white vest goes a long way.
Pick of the week
For Your Consideration (12A)
dir: Christopher Guest
Hollywood satire from the Spinal Tap/Best in Show creators.
The Fountain (12A)
dir: Darren Aronofsky
Hugh Jackman searches for eternal life in a batty romantic fantasy.
Notes on a Scandal (15)
dir: Richard Eyre
On Oscars night, I'll be rooting for Judi Dench, sublime here as a crafty teacher.