If you’ve never heard of Turkish master auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia), or seen any of his work before, you could be forgiven for casting aside Winter Sleep for being a long, bore of a film. But don’t let the title, vague trailer or 196-minute running time fool you. This richly textured film is as intellectually rewarding as it entertaining. It’s a languorous study in relationships and character, set against an incredible backdrop – and well worth the investment.
In a wanderlust-inducing moment, the film opens in Cappadocia in Central Anatolia – a breathtaking, rocky hinterland in Turkey. Our protagonist is a small-town celebrity, the wealthy, silver-haired writer, hotelier and ex-actor Aydin (Haluk Bilginer). At first glimpse this charmer is educated, confident and sophisticated. Yet Ceylan soon reveals a man deeply rooted in his own vanity, with a god-complex-like desire for control at his heart.
Aydin resides with his opinionated and much younger wife, Nihal (Melisa Sözen), who simmers with contempt, his recently separated sister, Necla (Demet Akbağ) and widowed close friend, Suavi (Tamer Levent), in a cosy boutique hotel inherited from his greatly revered father. Aside from the B&B, Aydin also owns several rock-faced homes, which he rules over with a satellite touch, preferring to palm off the muscle work to his friend and hotel manager, Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan). This is most evident when, following a visit from a debt collector, tension between Aydin, Hidayet and one of his tenants builds, peaking at a moment when a young boy, the son of his drunkard tenant, throws a stone at Aydin’s car, smashing his window. It’s a pivotal scene that will become a main thread of the film, sparking a dramatic chain of events involving all.
It’s quite easy to see why Winter Sleep was awarded the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes last year. The literary dialog is thoughtful, philosophical and intelligent, and the character development is meticulous – particularly the strong female leads, which Ceylan has credited to his co-writer wife, Ebru Ceylan, and the women in his life as a child.
Fifteen years in the making and hailed as Ceylan’s magnum opus, Winter Sleep is a considered and moody study of the human condition. It’s poignant and compelling and fans of Ingmar Bergman and Anton Chekov (Ceylan’s direct influence) will love.
Winter Sleep is showing in selected cinemas now. Watch the trailer here