Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), a former actor, runs a small hotel in central Anatolia with his young wife Nihal (Melisa Sšzen) with whom he has a stormy relationship and his sister Necla (Demet Akbag) who is getting over her recent divorce. In winter as the snow begins to fall, the hotel turns into a shelter but also an inescapable place that fuels their animosities.
Review by Louise Keller:
Morality and conscience are the corner stones of this unravelling of human relationships in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's engrossing drama in which the remote, harsh setting is a reflection of the narrative. Winner of this year's Palme d'or, Winter Sleep travels a similar road to that of Ceylan's 2011 Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, both in terms of landscape as well as pace and generous running time. Once again he skilfully uses deft brushstrokes to paint imagery that explores the jigsaw of the human condition. I was totally absorbed by the characters in this adaptation of an Anton Chekov's short story, whose innermost thoughts and depiction of self take high precedence over plot and action.
'I wish my level of self deception were as low as yours,' Necia (Demet Akbag) tells her brother Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) in one riveting scene in which a heated and lengthy discussion transpires from a initially benign conversation about the articles that the wealthy former actor, turned hotel owner has written for a newspaper column. He sits at his messy desk in the large, comfortable sitting room; she is reclining on a settee, the paintings, lamps, books and a world globe around them making the room feel alive. The irony of Aydin's recollection of meeting Omar Sharif on a filmset in Anatolia does not escape us, when he recalls the actor describes acting to be 'all about honesty.' Honesty plays a large part.
The early scene in which a rock that shatters the windscreen of Aydin and his driver Gidayet (Ayberk Pekcan) as they drive through the barren landscape comes by way of a tease and introduction to Aydin's detachment and superiority complex. The youngster who hurls the rock, his angry, drunken father (Nejat Isler) and keen-to-please uncle (Serhat Kilic), who are Aydin's tenants, play an important part later in the film.
The intensity of the conversations increase as the film progresses, the most potent being that between Aydin and his much younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen), whose disdain and hatred becomes patently apparent as she calls him 'an unbearable man' who has robbed her of her life. Bilginer, as the film's central character has the gravitas to ground it but the other performances are excellent, too. The two women are superb but the effectiveness of Isler and Kilic as the tenant brothers is also paramount.
Shot in stunning widescreen, the imagery haunts with harsh contrasts of rains and snow. But it is the tumultuous emotions displayed as the characters express their innermost thoughts - about life, helping others and the consequences of resisting or not resisting evil - that ultimately steal our attention. The film is certainly long, but it is worth the trip, the trip along the symbolic road to hell that is often paved with good intentions.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is an extraordinary film, both extra in content and length and yet ordinary in the sense that filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan observes the 'ordinary' daily interactions of a sophisticated and educated older man Aydin (Haluk Bilginer, excellent), who has retired from the stage but continues a theatrical, drama-riddled existence. And it's not that different to many of our lives in its themes of interpersonal conflicts fed as much by insignificant nuances of communication as by the differences in personality.
It's not a film we can watch without a variety of emotions and reactions, ranging from visual engagement with the Anatolian landscape and habitats, to the irritation of the very aspects that make the film a standout: Ceylan's stubbornness in observing with a still camera as long stretches of conversation take place. Of course, this is all intentional: we are drawn into the act of observing and analysing how these characters deal with being effectively imprisoned - both physically in a remote little hotel and symbolically in their mindsets.
Aydin is also a landlord and his relationship with poor tenants who have unpaid rent - due we discover, to their own actions - is one the film's core elements. His relationship with his younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sšzen) and sister Necla (Demet Akbag, strikingly good) are at the centre of the film's dramatic core, as they both splinter. Ceylan places their conflicts in psychological battlegrounds and he manages to retain our interest by the complexity and dexterity of the dialogue. Not to mention the exceptional clarity of his observations about human nature. This is a great example of the writer conveying eternal truths in the medium of film. He simply films what in a book would be lengthy conversations, set in a completely neutral and natural setting.
Aydin is writing his weekly column for a local paper while his sister reclines on a lounge behind him, sniping, scraping at his whole persona. They joust with words as sharp as knives.
Aydin's conflict with his wife is different, and Melisa Sšzen is superb in this demanding role.
While viewing the film (it's long and it feels long) I switched back and forth from engaged to disengaged, from admiring to irritated. In the end, though, I digested the film overnight and realised that Ceylan has a reason for everything he included - and there is a lot I haven't mentioned. It's certainly not for the masses, but for film lovers who missed it at Cannes (2014) where it won the Palme d'Or and the international critics prize, it is a chance to see contemporary cinema that is challenging and rewarding, ambitious and authentic.
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WINTER SLEEP (M)
CAST: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sšzen, Demet Akbag, Ayberg Peckan, Serhat Mustafa, Kilic, Nejat Isler, Tamer Levent
PRODUCER: Zeynep Ozbatur Atakan
DIRECTOR: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
SCRIPT: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gškhan Tiryaki
EDITOR: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Bora Gšknsigšl
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Art Direction: Gamze Kus
RUNNING TIME: 169 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 13, 2014