If you’re a fan of European cinema, you are probably aware of the acclaimed filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan. But what are the best Nuri Bilge Ceylan films?

Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a Turkish film director and screenwriter. He graduated from the Istanbul University Faculty of Economics and worked as an economist for some years before deciding to become a film director.

He left Turkey to study at the French film school La Fémis, where he obtained a master’s degree in filmmaking.

He makes art house movies that challenge your worldview and keep you thinking long after the credits roll.

Many of his films have been nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, which ranks as one of the top film festivals in Europe. One of these films, Winter Sleep, won the award in 2014.

These are the best Nuri Bilge Ceylan films that you need to watch as soon as possible.

Best Nuri Bilge Ceylan Films

Here are all 8 films directed by the fantastic Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

The Wild Pear Tree (2018)

If you are unaware of Nuri Bilge Ceylan then you are missing out on one of the most exciting filmmakers working in world cinema today.

Some people I know even go so far as to say he is a genius.

You might be aware that all of Nuri’s best films are characterized by long takes and beautiful landscape cinematography, most often featuring the Turkish countryside.

The cast is all native Turkish and Nuri is credited with bringing attention to the amazing acting talent of Turkey.

From the opening moments, you realize that you are watching something special. A man enters a forest to chop down a tree, he goes at it for many hours non-stop.

In another country, this would be insignificant but here in Turkey, it’s routine work that takes place every day without rest or thought.

This opening image is beautifully captured in one long steady shot which shows off the cinematography of Ceylan perfectly.

Eventually, he does sit down and take a break from his hard grafting, taking out bread, cheese, and tea as if it were an ordinary picnic in a provincial park anywhere else in the world, but here it’s an amazing image because we are in Turkey and this is how people live.

One of the best things about Nuri’s films is that he never patronizes the audience or moves the plot along too fast.

In fact, his works can be frustratingly slow-moving at times which makes you wonder if there will ever be a climax like there could be in other films.

The Wild Pear Tree (2018) starts off with subtle hints of conflict between father and son which gradually builds through the film as they both have to make decisions on what direction to take life in future years.

I found myself thinking that life isn’t really like this most times, films need some kind of drama to keep us entertained even if it means the pacing is going to be slower than most people will expect or care for.

There is a scene later on in which a family gathers up all their belongings and head into the city.

They have come from a small village miles away and are joining the working class of an industrialized area, this kind of thing does not happen every day but it’s something that we can relate to as it’s part of everyone’s lives at some point or another.

I’m not sure I’ve seen anything quite like Ceylan’s films before, he has done drama with his previous works such as Uzak (2002), romance with Three Monkeys (2008), history-mystery with Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011), and even horror.

There’s something about them that I like as there is nothing else out there quite like it.

Nuri does not just engage with the audience by showing us spectacular things or grotesque scenes, he makes us think and feel with his movies which are the most important ingredients of a great film.

Having Ceylan in Turkish cinema is a blessing on many levels and we should appreciate what we have while we have him here.

I hope before too long I get to see another one of his beautiful films filled with wonderful images, powerful dialogue, and mesmerizing landscapes all caught up in an ever-watchable performance from whichever cast member will be appearing this time around.

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Winter Sleep (2014)

The opening image of this film is just beautiful. The film begins with a shot of the stunning landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey’s showcase city that sits almost like a rock in the middle of an orange sea.

This glorious view is in fact real and one most people will never get to see – so thank goodness for movie magic!

Winter Sleep then goes on to show us more natural land as we are introduced into the lives of Aydin and his daughter Nihal.

Both have recently lost their wives which have seen them become closer somehow although it also means they have lost interest in life at times, becoming depressed with what seems to be monotony.

Life for many folks in Turkey can be quite hard work, farmers are friendly and hospitable but it’s hard work cultivating their land even though it may be beautiful to look at.

Winter Sleep is a very slow-moving film that requires a lot of patience from the viewer.

Everything that happens in this movie needs attention paid to it, as there will be vital information you need to know later on in the narrative.

Not every shot needs four minutes of screen time repeated, some can be over far too soon whilst others feel like they’re going forever.

Nuri obviously wants us to see natural life in Turkey alongside humans who live as part of nature rather than above or apart from it.

He says, “I never tried to make something effortless or soothing” when asked about his films and that he doesn’t have “the right to make an effortless film. I always put in a lot of effort.”

Winter Sleep (2014) has already been submitted as Turkey’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film award at this year’s Academy Awards.

Nuri is no stranger to this competition having been nominated twice before, Uzak (2002) and Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011).

If it is accepted as the official entry then it will be the first time Nuri has had one of his movies up for this prestigious honor.

Despite not winning him anything yet he still remains one of Turkish cinema’s top directors with many people loving his work all over the world so much so that there have already been several stand-alone retrospectives on his films.

I’m not sure how I feel about Winter Sleep.  It’s beautifully shot and some of the dialogue is mesmerizing but it seems a bit slow at times.

Some scenes happen over four minutes when most just need one or two due to repetition that does nothing for the story, frequently ceasing all action until someone new speaks.


‘Suspense’ can be an important part of telling a story so pauses in speech help build what is said next and add importance to what has been contemplated by characters who have an emotional investment with their thoughts rather than allowing them to coldly speak out information they may have thought about before.

It also allows time for us as viewers to let it sink in, further bringing ourselves into the lives of those involved whose views on the subject are obviously important to them.

I sometimes felt as though I was watching a documentary instead of a story with both Winter Sleep and Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, there is so much detail that needs paying attention to – it’s just not for me personally.

I think in time this movie will grow on me, it has already despite my reservations about some of its aspects.

It is a beautiful film visually and offers many insights into life within Turkish culture which can sometimes seem quite foreign to our Western eyes due to how different languages can make people appear during conversation rather than what is actually being said.

There’s also an interesting message hidden deep within these films, one that could be lost if you’re not willing to pay attention.

Winter Sleep (English Subtitled)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbağ (Actors)
  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Director) - Ebru Ceylan (Writer) - Zeynep Özbatur Atakan (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)

Once Upon a Time In Anatolia (2011) is about two police officers who are driving into the middle of Turkey to find someone in order that they may take him back from where he came to face trial by their superiors.

They pass through many areas during their journey, some more rural than others as well as meeting different people along the way.

Some speak freely while others will only say what they need to out of fear: there’s never any certainty in the air which adds intrigue to every scene.

We follow these two characters throughout their adventure trying hard not to lose them or be left behind due to a snowy winter storm hitting Anatolia while they are on the road.

On their way to find Umit they pass through many different landscapes, some within close proximity of each other and others separated by great distances but all of them are unique in their own ways due to what lies within or around them.

A couple of years ago I watched a documentary about how The Killing (1956) was filmed at a time when it was very hard to get out there and do such things because most areas were not accessible, so much work had to be done from using models, matte paintings, etc later on in post-production and we see this happening here as well except we’re going back even further with Uzak (2002).

This movie is also similar to Antonioni’s L’eclisse (1962) in that it’s shot using CinemaScope and has a similar visual style to it.

I was surprised at how thin the extras were because of this but soon realized that the thinner they are, the more importance is put on both characters which are obviously important due to them being the main storyteller(s).

We don’t see things from what we assume would be an aerial viewpoint as in The Killing, we’re placed within their car so whenever they look out of their window or get out, we do too and though I haven’t watched very much cinema from Turkey before seeing Winter Sleep and Once Upon A Time In Anatolia I can now say that even if you don’t understand what is being said it’s still possible to follow the story without being able to understand the language.

The sound mix is mainly in English with a few scenes containing Turkish dialogue, which added another layer of realism to it because I didn’t know what was being said but at least had an idea from hearing it before.

The characters are just as important here as they were in Winter Sleep and when you have slow-paced movies like this, it’s very important that viewers actually care about who they’re following otherwise everything would fall apart quickly.

Taking the story away from them for even a minute or two could be enough time for us to forget who we’re supposed to be watching or why and then there’d be no structure left behind whatsoever.

It takes some time to get your head around things though but this too adds to the film as it means we have to spend time with our two leads and learn about them as well as getting closer to them before anything happens.

We don’t simply follow a detective through his investigation, we’re out on the road with them and along for the ride which makes all of that hard work seem so much more worthwhile and provides us insight into why they do what they do.

It’s like having someone guide you around an area but then asking questions every now and again, they introduce you to people who help flesh out your understanding in some way or another until you feel like part of the environment rather than just being accepted into it.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Yılmaz Erdoğan, Muhammet Uzuner, Taner Birsel (Actors)
  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Director) - Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Writer) - Zeynep Ozbatur (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Three Monkeys (2008)

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film tells the story of a family blown apart by lies and non-communication. When Servet (Ercan Kesal), a politician involved in a car accident, asks his driver Eyup (Yavoz Bingol) to take the rap – a short jail sentence – in return for a financial reward, the driver’s wife Hacer (Hatice Aslan) and teenage son Ismail (Ritaf Sungar) are inevitably affected by Eyup’s decision to take the money.

Wishing to help her son, Hacer approaches Servet for an advance and soon gets more involved with him than she bargained for.

Before long, all four characters find themselves trapped in a tangled web of guilt and deceit…

Three Monkeys [DVD] [2008]
  • Yavuz Bingol, Hatice Aslan, Ahmet Rifat Sungar (Actors)
  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Director) - Ebru Ceylan (Writer) - Cemal Noyan (Producer)

Climates (2006)

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film Climates (2006) is a film deserving of a place in any serious film lovers collection.

It’s a very intimate, human drama exploring themes of love and loss as well as family ties all blended together within an emotional insight into life in contemporary Turkey.

The way it is shot is so beautiful that you can really get lost within the images on the screen with every single frame feeling like it could be hung up on your wall if only they were printed higher resolution than what we view them through.

  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Ebru Ceylan, Nazan Kesal, Mehmet Eryilmaz (Actors)
  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Director) - Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Writer) - Zeynep Ozbatur (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)

Distant (2002)

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film Distant (2002) is a must-see for anyone looking to appreciate what Turkish cinema has to offer, a realistic look at life in a foreign land with themes surrounding family and friendship.

We get the chance to spend some time within his mind as he struggles through difficult times during his stay in Germany where he doesn’t speak the language or know many people, all while having to work hard at finding employment which is mainly comprised of manual labor.

The film contains a lot of still shots, for me, this added to the realism and helped emphasize the point that he was thinking about something as well as giving the viewer time to take in their surroundings.

Undoubtedly one of my favorite films of all time!

Distant follows Muzaffer, a young Turkish man who travels to Germany with his cousin Sibel to find work and improve himself.

It’s a hard life in Germany for him especially as he is unable to speak German which makes it difficult for him to get any decent jobs.

It’s interesting how many different things can be said without any words being spoken, through body language and reaction shots we get to know exactly how the character feels about everything that’s happening around him.

Clouds of May (1999)

Muzzafer, a young Turkish filmmaker, travels to the province where his parents live, looking for locations for his next film.

There he will face territorial disputes, his father’s bad temper, and ambitious professional actors, which will lead the director to turn to his own in search of interpreters.

With this film, he won the FIPRESCI award from the International Critics, the Turkish filmmaker and photographer Nuri Bilge Ceylan gives shape to a lyrical pastoral symphony.

Full of moments of audiovisual contemplation of nature, about family union, the role of the artist, the love for the earth, and the cycle of life, in which moments of contemplation of nature abound.

Clouds Of May (Mayis Sikintisi) (Kasaba)
  • Fatma Ceylan, Mehmet Emin Ceylan, Mehmet Emin Toprak (Actors)
  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Director)
  • German (Subtitle)

The Small Town (1997)

In a pastoral town in Turkey, a family goes through changes as the seasons blend into one another.

In winter, the daughter and son struggle through lessons at school.

Spring comes, and as the frost recedes, the children explore the natural beauty of the terrain that surrounds them.

When summer arrives, the siblings have a picnic with their grandmother (Fatma Ceylan) and grandfather (Emin Ceylan), who relate stories about life during World War I. With autumn comes domestic tranquility.

The Small Town
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Emin Toprak, Havva Sağlam, Cihat Bütün (Actors)
  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Director) - Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Writer) - Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Cocoon (1995)

Koza (Cocoon) is a wordless, non-narrative succession of mystical, pastoral images. The three human characters are an old man, an old woman, and a young boy, who wander among the natural wonders and give the camera soulful looks.

What Are The Major Themes In Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Films?

If you know much about the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan before then it won’t come as much of a surprise to hear that he likes to explore themes such as loss, loneliness and frustration.

These three appear quite often throughout his work and each film has at least one or two of these things going on in them but I would say they are strongest in Uzak (2002) which is generally considered to be his best work when compared with his others up until this point.

The main difference between them though is that whilst we’re still following a man who struggles to connect with those around him closely here, there’s also something else going on behind all of that which makes sense once you actually watch the film because it’s something that I couldn’t find any information on whatsoever.

Perhaps Nuri Bilge Ceylan doesn’t want the audience to find out until they see it for themselves because he only had this tiny paragraph to say about these themes.

Most of my characters, including those who did not appear before the camera, are longing for something or rather somebody but do not know exactly for what or who. Their lives (which have been going around in circles) will come to an end one day.

That explanation is beautiful and makes sense now despite having no idea what it means beforehand, as someone who has had trouble connecting with other people in my life I can definitely relate to that feeling of longing and needing something more from the world around me.

We all need human connection or we feel lost and it’s interesting because we’re so focused on what our own problems are that we don’t realize most of this is happening on a mass scale as well.

In fact, many people live much better lives than us but are still unsatisfied even so, proving just how easy it is for one person to be oblivious to another’s problems when they have their own going on at the moment.

However, once you’ve begun exploring themes such as these then there’s no turning back, if you want them to mean something then they will mean something and they’ll stick with you as a result which means that your understanding of his films will increase in size exponentially rather than just gaining the basic knowledge.

It’s kind of hard to explain though because this isn’t something I planned or even expected, it was more like my favorite films became so much better and I wanted to learn more about them by exploring what else he’d done.

This has always been a problem for me when watching a film because part of me is screaming “This is amazing, why isn’t everyone going crazy over this? What have they got against it?”

Whilst another voice responds, “You need to be less ignorant and go explore other things, stop wasting time on stuff you know nothing about and move towards other interests.”

Best Nuri Bilge Ceylan Films – Wrapping Up

Write a conclusion for the above post

Ceylan could arguably be described as the world’s greatest living filmmaker and I would love to see more of his works released in the West because, although cinema is certainly better off with his work in existence, there are still plenty of people who have no idea what he can do.

Most of my favorite directors have either never made it over here or if they did their most recent film didn’t get a release (such as Wes Anderson) meaning that we’re restricted to whatever their distributor decides to put out which is often just a single film rather than others you might’ve missed from them despite really loving that piece.

Ceylan is an artist rather than a film-maker which makes him very different from everybody else because he’s someone who takes his time on everything, he doesn’t release a new film every year with just about everyone else preferring quantity over quality .

He isn’t going to give you films every few months either like Quentin Tarantino likes to do because whether you enjoy it or not, his work deserves more than that.

You need to learn through experience and watching these sorts of films more than once (not just to let them sink in but so you can keep up with the dialogue if it’s a slow burn) and that will help you appreciate his work on an even deeper level.

Ceylan has never been about making simple films for the masses or just telling a story , instead he wants to make people think as well as feel which means something like this won’t be for everyone who watches it, however, those who stick around are unlikely to forget it anytime soon.

I had to pick one though so I would recommend Once Upon A Time In Anatolia because it is in my opinion his masterpiece which means that although it might not be the best introduction to him, it will tell you everything that he can do and allow you to move onto other things from there.

We hope this list of the best Nuri Bilge Ceylan films has been useful for you. Let us know your favorite Ceylan movie in the comments below.

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