Starring: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbag
Aydin (Bilginer) is a former actor who is now the wealthy owner of a mountain hotel in the Turkish region of Anatolia and landlord to many poverty stricken residents in the nearby village. He spends his time writing articles for the local paper and working on a book that he is planning to write about the history of Turkish theatre. Also living in the hotel with Aydin are his young wife Nihal (Sözen) and his sister Necla (Akbag) who has recently had a divorce. As the winter months close in the hotel empties and all that is left is the three of them and their mutual contempt for each other.
By anyone’s standards (except maybe Lav Diaz) 196 minutes is a long time, and it is fair to say that so many films these days are longer than they should be, but yet Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or winner and latest masterpiece fully justifies what sounds like an exhausting and challenging running time. In fact, when seeing this exquisite film at the cinema I will happily state with absolute honesty that it felt no longer than two hours; every scene, every line of dialogue and every single shot justifies its existence in what is in my view, despite the director’s remarkably high standards, his best film yet and without doubt one of the very best films of the year.
Very little ultimately happens in the film’s narrative, but that is part of the point as this represents the lives of the trio of protagonists; they all say many things and do it very eloquently, but are yet people who actually physically do very little and lead lives of total hypocrisy. The fact is that Aydin, Nihal and Necla are all characters that are very easy to dislike but what is crucial is that they are all very relatable as they demonstrate conflicting good and bad characteristics, as do we all. The most memorable and compelling characters are the ones we can deeply relate to and are at times a cerebral reflection of ourselves and both the traits of ourselves we are proud of but also the ones we are less proud of. Ceylan’s films are often master classes in methodical film making that in narrative terms hardly anything happens, but yet within the narrative there is an insightful substance and deep examination of everything. Winter Sleep is quite a simply a modern masterpiece of deeply resonant, profound and affecting subconscious cinema.
We are of course all different and so will take away different things from watching Winter Sleep and its deep examination of the human condition not only confronts the characters with who they truly are, but also through its deep and methodical examination we will also be confronted with who we are. Most people do not watch a film wanting it to do that, and that is fair enough, but for me the great films are the ones that go deep into your subconscious and stay with you, and the deliberately meticulous pacing of Ceylan’s films means they can do exactly that.
The narrative is dominated by lengthy, dialogue-heavy scenes consisting of exchanges between predominantly just two characters and thanks to the exquisite dialogue, superb acting and deeply effective camerawork each scene often has moments of extreme discomfort, but as the dialogue exchanges go to darker places the scenes only get even more gripping and compelling. Nuri Bulge Ceylan’s script which he co-wrote with wife Ebru explores a vast plethora of subjects ranging from the personal such as love, friendship, family and loyalty to bigger subjects such as religion and our places within society. Mr & Mrs Ceylan’s dialogue also demonstrates the use of context and subtext with sometimes devastating words; sentences that in isolation could seem like nice words can with a certain subtext or context be extremely cruel to the person they are directed at.
The acting from all three main characters and the supporting characters is exceptional; they all command the screen and embody with utter conviction the conflicting personality traits of their characters. At times we despise them and at times we want to take their side, but we are always compelled and fascinated by them. Ceylan’s camerawork too also enhances the oppressive atmosphere; the desolate wide open spaces of the region are captured exquisitely, but yet despite having all this wide open space, the characters have almost created oppressive mental prisons for themselves.
Though on the surface (and by reading this review) Winter Sleep may sound like a meditation on misery, it is far more than that. It has plenty of moments of dark humour and is never, ever depressing just for the sake of it, and has an ending that though does not tie up all loose ends, is still profoundly satisfying. Winter Sleep is a film that deserves to have dissertations written bout it, but I better stop before this review becomes one.
A cinematic master class in profound and deep examination of the human condition; Winter Sleep gets deep inside your subconscious and stays there for a very long time. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece.