WINTER SLEEP (Kis Uykusu). Starring: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sozen, Demet Akbag, and Serhat Mustafa Kilic. Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Rated M (Coarse language and mature themes). 196 min.
This stunning Turkish film is inspired by the short stories of Anton Chekov. It won the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014.
The story is set in the rocky Anatolia region of Cappadocia and deals with the life of an educated and wealthy man, Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), who runs an isolated mountaintop hotel with his young wife, Nihal (Melisa Sozen). His marriage is failing. Most people in the region have reasons to dislike Aydin, and few make any effort to get along with him. One villager, the local imam (Serhat Kilic), makes a serious attempt to do so, and Aydin dismisses him contemptuously.
Winter is coming, and the tensions among Aydin, his bitter divorced sister Necia (Demet Akbag), his wife, and the villagers escalate slowly. Intense conversations among the characters reveal their human frailties, and Aydin's in particular. He is unable to relate meaningfully to the suffering and anguish that is about him. He evicts families living in poverty and takes their furniture to cover the debts they owe him; he insults and belittles people in the local newspaper column that he writes; he uses his learning and erudition to make cruel fun of people; and he treats his wife, who stays emotionally distant from him to protect herself, unfeelingly. Aydin uses his virtues "to suffocate people".
Deep conversations in this subtitled movie analyse a wide scope of themes and issues in life. There are discussions of the consequences of not resisting evil, and the differences between conscience and morality. Most of the conversations have serious moral implications which have uncomfortable truths associated with most of them. The rich are contrasted with the poor and the social divides that fractionate the community are presented in detail. But like the films of Ingmar Bergman (such as "Scenes from a Marriage", 1973), a core theme of the movie is always present. Focus is kept on a family in decline. The scene between Aydin and Nihal where they communicate their perceptions of each other is electrifying.
The film harrowingly depicts a family that is led by a person who is totally self-absorbed. Necia tells Aydin, "in order not to suffer, you prefer to fool yourself". Aydin's pride has cut him off from charitable feelings and genuine empathy towards others. He sees himself as a kindly baron to the villagers, but they do not see him that way at all. "My kingdom may be small", Aydin says, "but at least I am the King there".
The film fluctuates between concentrating on personality dynamics, exploring class differences and associated misperceptions, and sharing the ravishing landscapes of Anatolia. The intimacy of the dialogue among the people in the film is contrasted dramatically with the beauty that lies outside their interior worlds. The environment and its rocky landscape are so claustrophobic that the inability to escape fuels the tensions that drive the interpersonal friction among the film's main characters.
The quality of acting in this movie is outstanding. The film is anchored to the character of Aydin, and the intricacies of his personality are captured superbly by Haluk Bilginer. Melisa Sozen expresses movingly the complex feelings of his disaffected wife, who resents particularly her husband's denial of the opportunities she tries to take for personal growth and fulfilment. The conversations among all of the characters are scripted extremely well. They expose the viewer brilliantly to the frustrations and inequities of human existence, and the dense dialogue is extraordinarily emotionally rich.
With a film as long as this one (three and a quarter hours), one must ask whether its length is excessive. It is important to realise that the Director of the film, Nuri Ceylan, films the scenes in the movie as if they are occurring in real time and this establishes a powerful tool for keeping the viewer involved. Not a minute is wasted.
This is an amazing, and beautifully directed film. Warmth, harshness, humanity, charity, cruelty and moral truths are everywhere in it, and the film constantly enthrals.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released November 13th., 2014