A film that looks and plays like a long-lost collaboration between Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky ought to be the biggest slam dunk of an art-house masterpiece that ever was, and last summer, when the French/Turkish co-production Climates [Iklimler] by Nuri Bilge Ceylan was rounding the European festival circuit, that was pretty much the exact critical response. Maybe it's just a problem of my expectations begin too high, but I simply don't see it.

In brief: Isa (the director himself) and Bahar (Ebru Ceylan, his wife) are lovers (married? The film is coy) with not a trace of true affection between them. After an emotionally disastrous vacation, they part ways, and for several months Isa grows increasingly lonely and anxious to reconnect with Bahar, although he projects an air of self-indulgent joie de vivre everywhere he goes that makes him quite the charmer/a pouty brat, depending on the moment.

First things first: Ceylan is a brilliant director. This film has an unusually languid style, which is the pretentious and nonjudgmental way of saying that it's extraordinarily boring. Right from the first scene, there is almost no dialogue in a very long moment composed of a very small number of shots (I didn't count) in which Bahar gets increasingly sad as Isa would rather pay attention to the ruins he's photographing than her. (Yes, this is a movie that begins in ruins. It ends in a graveyard. Surprisingly, I'm completely okay with this grade-school-level narrative metaphor). From my admittedly bent perspective that anything that makes the audience uncomfortable is inherently good, and six-minute scenes with almost no cuts and almost no dialogue is a great way to do that.

The story, indeed, is "about" glacial pacing. It takes all of the fall and winter for Isa to do much of anything besides lazily seduce ex-girlfriends, and if "climates" is meant to suggest the gradual change of seasons, it also suggests the gradual change in Isa that proceeds just as slowly and just as inexorably as the shift in the weather. It's bold, and I support bold directorial choices, to move the story forward so incrementally. Not that it's particularly original - looking at the names I dropped earlier, it's basically Antonioni's "alienation trilogy" view of human fallibility (L'avventura, La notte, L'eclisse) coupled with Tarkovsky's pornographically long takes and slow plots, shot with Bergman's absolute trust that his actors will able to pull it all off, although given that Ceylan directs and plays the main character, that's less of a thing than it is in Bergman.

Make no mistake, it's a well-placed trust. The Ceylans are fantastic, especially Ebru. Her husband films her with the same glowing camera love with which Josef von Sternberg filmed Marlene Dietrich, although John Cassevetes and Gena Rowlands might be more to the point. And she repays that love by being flawless in the part, from that very first scene where she has to communicate an entire first act of exposition in her eyes and the hint of a frown.

I have one and only one problem with this film that otherwise succeeds smashingly well, and that is that it's subhuman. Or at least inhuman. I look at Isa, and I look at Bahar, and I do not see people there. Now, the Ceylans are so incredible in their performances that it's not obvious at first; but their characters do not behave like conscious beings. Everything that they do, particularly Isa in the second half, they do because it's in the script. Nothing is organic or natural, it's all hugely contrived. And I ordinarily don't let script considerations bother me this much when the rest of the film is firing on all cylinders, but in this case I must make an exception. Everything - the acting especially, but everything else to a more subtle degree- builds to the same point, which is the representation of adult psychology (look at the reviews for the film, note how many of the positive ones praise the film for "adult characters"), and it fails entirely. This is a film that knows nothing of human behavior, and because of that, it implodes.

The scene that best exemplifies this, to me, is the film's standout moment, in the sense that it is most indelibly burned into your mind at the end, when Isa has brought one of his exes, Serap (Nazan Kirilmis) home. Over a lengthy single take, he rapes her. First, it is telling, I think, that all of the positive reviews for this film describe this as "sex," or sometimes "rough sex."* It is not. It is rape, and if it is not meant to be rape, then the actors have failed tremendously in communicating otherwise.

What's really bothersome is not this scene per se, but how it has no ramifications. When Isa and Serap are seen to interact later, there's no acknowledgement that anything went on of any nature, let alone a violent one. It's a complete abnegation of psychological responsibility.

That's not the only example, of course, just the big obvious one. Really, tiny moments like that occur throughout the story, where behavior seems to lack any and all influences beyond the screenplay. Isa and Bahar are not people, they are unabashedly characters. Of course, this is much the same thing that Antonioni did in the 1960s, but to that director, stripping the humanity out of human interactions was his polemical, misanthropic goal. Ceylan seems to legitimately believe that his film contains compellingly flawed people, whom we do not like but still recognize. I didn't recognize a damn thing.

I think a much better comparison than the highly experimental La notte, which seemingly every reviewer name drops in the context of Climates is Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage. That too was a story of a distant husband who destroyed his love through cruelty and inattention, only to discover too late that he wanted it back, and that too was filmed in marathon-length takes with almost no action, but that was a film with two characters whose humanity overwhelms us. I look at Isa and Bahar, and they remind me of no-one; Bergman's Marianne and Johan, in stark contrast, remind me on some level of everyone I've ever met.

Climates is a masterpiece of craftsmanship that fails completely on the thematic front, and I don't know that I've ever seen one of those before. Certainly, Nuri Bilge Ceylan has an eye, and this is more than enough to get me to seek out his other features and wait in anticipation for whatever he comes out with next. But this - I just really don't know.