Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is a famous director who is considered as auteur in contemporary Turkish cinema. Since he is an auteur, he has some characteristics in his films which make the audience identify him in his films. In this paper, first of all I am going to give a brief description of what auteur means and how can an auteur director be identified. Then, I will try to give basic common elements of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s cinema. Throughout his cinema career, these elements undergo some changes. I will try to give these ruptures in his cinema by showing some examples from Clouds of May (Mayıs Sıkıntısı, 1999) and Three Monkeys (Üç Maymun, 2008). Finally, I will try to argue that these ruptures do not prevent him being an auteur by showing basic continuities which are the signature of him on his cinema.
First of all, we have to understand the concept of auteur in cinema if we want to understand Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his cinema. Auteur theory basically argues that, the director should put his/her signature on the film. The cinema of auteur filmmakers should be self-reflexive. This means that the filmmaker should reflect whatever s/he has deep inside to the films. Auteur theory is advocated by François Truffaut who is a famous French filmmaker and film critique for the first time. There may be some common symbols, themes or cinematographic techniques like jump cuts which are used by Jean Luc Godard that are intentionally put or used in every single film of the same director. These became the style of the director. Like the author of a novel, from the style of the film, the spectator can infer its director. So, the filmmaker has all the hegemony on the film. S/he should be able to put his/her all personality on the film. S/he should be able to say ‘this is my film’. This makes the spectator able to identify the director from his/her film.
There is another concept which should also be mentioned in order to understand Nuri Bilge Ceylan cinema: slight narrative. The term is first introduced by Rotha to describe the cinema of Flaherty.  According to the content of slight narrative, the story should come from the life of ordinary people. What are important in the narrative should not be the actions of individuals. There is no need to any extraordinary actions which shape the life of individuals. Actually, the main reason stands back of this kind of thinking is that life does not go like that. People mostly live ordinary and regular events throughout their lives which are not unexpected ones.
In Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s cinema, there are some characteristics regarding cinematography, mise-en-scene and theme which the spectator sees constantly. Using non professional actors is one of them. This is a style used in Italian Neo-realism which is a cinema movement occurred in Italy in 1945. Up to Distant (Uzak, 2002), Ceylan chose all his actors as non-professional. Moreover, he uses his family members in his films like Clouds of May, and he also appears in some of his films such as Climates (İklimler, 2006). Nuri Bilge Ceylan believes that their acting is much more natural. In Clouds of May, his belief in naturalness in acting becomes more visible by his use of his own parents in the film in the role of Muzaffer’s parents.
In order to keep the naturalness in acting, Ceylan uses loose scripts in his films. Being bound to detailed scripts make the spontaneity in acting lost. That is why loose scripts are preferable in films which can be considered as minimalist-realist in which there is minimal use of dramatic elements. Ceylan, even does not show the script to the actors. He just gives some explanations regarding the scene and let the actors play as they are.
Another common element in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films is their being photograph-like. As Kracauer thinks that ‘the nature of photography survives in that of film’. As a filmmaker, who came from a photographic background, Ceylan’s frames in his films are very photograph-like. Duration of the shots is the thing which gives the spectator that photographic sense about the frames. There are very little movements in most of the scenes. The frame is constructed with a photographic aesthetics. As an extension of photographic tradition, Ceylan uses deep focus and depth of field in his frames. This also comes from an Italian Neo-realist tradition. One frame creates a meaning on its own; there is no need to relate the frames in order to infer a meaning. Deep focus technique serves very much to this purpose. It gives the spectator the freedom of thinking about the frame. The main idea is not imposed by the director.
On location shooting is another common characteristic of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films. This is also a reminder of Italian Neo-realist films. Starting with Roma, Citta Aperta directed by Rossellini, this film movement was really against shooting films in studios. Likewise, Nuri Bilge Ceylan shoots his films on the places the narration takes place. In Clouds of May, he uses his hometown as the location of the film and even the house is the real one in which his family lives. This, of course, makes his films more realistic and documentary-like but with a very high aesthetical understanding. This aestheticism in his films makes him a unique director. On location shooting also affects the use of light. Since the films are shot in the real environment, there is no need to use so much artificial lighting. With the effect of minimalist realism, there is also no need to use so much shadow to create dramatic effect.
He also uses long shots in his films. Long shots are another basic technique of documentaries. With the long shots, the filmmaker makes the spectator get accustomed to the environment and also think the characters within that environment. This is exactly what Nuri Bilge Ceylan wants to do. That is why he chooses amateurs as actors and makes on location shootings. Of course, the idea of time is very important then. With so much realistic elements in one film, manipulating time, making it too long or too short would seem absurd. That is why in Nuri Bilge Ceylan films, time is given with a realistic sense. We see no jump cuts or flashbacks. Life flows as it is in the life.
When we talk about Nuri Bilge Ceylan cinema, we have to divide it at least into two categories: films before 2002 and after. This is simply because Nuri Bilge Ceylan starts to undergo some changes in his films. Starting with Distant, as the name of the film suggests, we see that he starts to move away from his classical understanding of cinema based on photography. In the scene where Mahmut talks about photography in Distant, he says as a photographer that photographer is dead. Since it is considered as an auto biographical film, this discussion made at that scene can be considered as the precursor of Ceylan’s change as a filmmaker. This change is most prominent in the film Three Monkeys. That is why I choose that film and Clouds of May to show the ruptures in Ceylan’s understanding of cinema.
First thing we can talk about is, of course, the choice of actors. As mentioned above, though some supporting characters are professional in Distant, Ceylan gives roles to non-professional actors in his films. He uses not only non-professional ones, but also chooses the characters elaborately near from the places where he shoots films. In Clouds of May, his own parents appear as the parents of the protagonist who is actually a depiction of Nuri Bilge Ceylan himself. Muzaffer Özdemir and Mehmet Emin Toprak are also the basic characters of Clouds of May. One notably characteristic of them is of course their being non-professional which makes their acting much more natural far from exaggeration and without using many mimics they look much more realistic. What we see in Three Monkeys is the use of very famous actors. Hatice Aslan as in the character of Hacer is a famous actress who has a theatrical background. Yavuz Bingöl is also as famous as her in Turkey since he is a musician. Ahmet Şungar is also a person who is familiar in soap-operas to the Turkish spectator. Still, the film takes place in Kartal where Şungar grows up in a very similar house. As bound to the background of the actors, the dramatic effect in Three Monkeys is much more increased than in Clouds of May. Less use of dramatic effect is a typical characteristic of minimalist-realistic films. With the professional actors coming from theatrical background, the acting changes drastically. It turns out much more strong and dramatic acting in Three Monkeys. Much more facial expressions are used. If we compare Three Monkeys with the Clouds of May with regard to acting, there is a considerable change. However, this does not a bad change or decline. It is just a stylistic choice which is explained by Nuri Bilge Ceylan as the right choice.
Music is another element used in both films. In Clouds of May, there is no use of much music. Besides its being minimal in use, it is also used naturally. Ceylan uses classical music in some scenes which is very low and faint integrated with the environmental sounds like sea waves and birds. On the other hand, in the Three Monkeys, the use of music is considerably different. The most prominent one is the melody of Hacer’s cell phone. It is a song by Yıldız Tilbe who is a Turkish arabesque singer. The lyrics of the song are appropriate to express the feelings of Hacer towards his lover and Eyüp towards Hacer. By being the ring of the cell phone, the music becomes diegetic in the film; still its very being at those specific scenes heightens the dramatic effect between characters.
There is big difference between two films with regard to their shooting techniques. Clouds of May is shot by 35 mm analog camera whereas Three Monkeys is recorded digitally. This makes a big difference in the use of special effects. Nuri Bilge Ceylan explains the use of special effects in Three Monkeys with the use of digital technology. He thinks that this makes him much more free and productive both in production and post-production.
We said that, Nuri Bilge Ceylan starts to move away from the photographic aesthetics in his film starting with the Distant. We see deep focuses and depth of field in Clouds of May. The duration of the scenes are very long and most of the time static. It is like Ceylan wants to make the viewer familiar to the land in which the life goes on anyway. However, in Three Monkeys, much more use of close ups are visible. This time, the importance is not on what life brings to people but the effect it makes on characters. Close ups to the characters faces heighten the dramatic effect much more than deep focus. The duration of the shots and scenes also change accordingly. Since close ups are used, their duration are much more short. This leads to an increase in the flow of actions which cannot be considered as slight narrative anymore.
Up to the last half an hour of the Three Monkeys, the film can be considered as radically different from the Ceylan’s previous films. What is considerably important in Three Monkeys is the actions of individuals. Oppositions are strictly given which is not done in films making with the minimalist-realistic sense such as rich and poor. Still, after the murder, the film turns out to be a Nuri Bilge Ceylan type of cinema again. Long shots and deep focuses become visible again. Though the acting does not change so much, the place of the characters in the scenes are changed. The spectator does not follow the action through but try to catch a meaning from every single frame. Especially the last scene where Eyüp looks down from the terrace is very much like the scenes of Mahmut in Distant. So, Ceylan shows his difference at the end of the film to the spectator again but this time he does it with a different chain of events up to the end.