Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Starring: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbag, Serhat Mustafa Kilic
It's at this time of year that we usually get the chance to finally see all those movies we got so excited about during the Cannes Film Festival back in May. Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep arrives carrying the boast of being this year's Palme d'Or winner, something that can often be a burden on a film, as many past winners have failed to live up to the hype generated in those sunny weeks of May. Ceylan's latest work probably isn't the best movie to have featured in this year's competition, but it certainly doesn't disappoint.
Aydin (Bilginer) is a retired stage actor, now the proprietor of a hotel in rural Anatolia, having inherited the establishment, along with several rented homes in a nearby town, from his father. He boasts of writing the definitive history of Turkish theatre, but he's yet to type a single word in his planned tome. Instead he contributes a weekly column to the local newspaper, an outlet he uses as a means of pontificating, often about his disdain for the working class people who rent his inherited properties. One such tenant is Hamdi (Kilic), the local Imam, who comes into contact with Aydin after his young nephew breaks a window of the landlord's jeep. Not wanting to consort with Hamdi, Aydin tells him to forget about the incident, but the Imam insists on making reparations, much to Aydin's annoyance.
With its hotel setting and snobbish protagonist, Winter Sleep almost feels like a slow cinema riff on Fawlty Towers, comic set-pieces replaced by lengthy arguments and discussions between Aydin, his much younger wife (Sozen) and his sister (Akbag). These extended conversations may not make for great cinema, but they're undeniably great drama, thanks to the wonderfully naturalistic performances from the film's intimate cast. Like most real life debates, the arguments here ramble off into a variety of tangents as those involved try their best to have the last word. The film's finest moment is also its most uncomfortable to watch, a sequence in which Aydin patronisingly interjects in his wife's charity dealings. Watching the younger woman gradually break down, knowing she is no intellectual match for her husband, is both compelling and repulsive, voyeuristic drama at its best.
Despite its heady dialogue, Winter Sleep is arguably Ceylan's most accessible film to date. Though never dull, at almost 3.5 hours it may prove taxing for some. If you're willing to throw yourself into Ceylan's hands for the extended running time, you might emerge mentally drained, but you'll have spent the time in the company of some of 2014's most intriguing and well drawn characters.
By Eric Hillis