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Turkey 2014
Directed by
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
196 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4 stars

Winter Sleep

Synopsis: Wealthy retired actor turned internet columnist, Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) runs the Othello Hotel, inherited from his father, in a remote village of the Cappadocia region. Here he lives with his young wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen), with whom he has a strained relationship, and his recently-divorced sister, Necla (Demet Akbag). Aydin also owns several businesses and homes in the surrounding village, particularly the home of the local imam, Hamdi (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç) and his violent, drunkard of a brother, Ismail (Nejat Isler). As winter arrives and the snow begins to fall, the guests leave the hotel, leaving the locals to face the underlying tensions and resentments that have begun to surface.

Winter Sleep comes with a pretty good pedigree. For a start, it’s the latest film from the much admired Turkish director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan who also co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Ebru Ceylan. Previously, the two had collaborated on screenplays for the intensely moving Three Monkeys and 2011’s Cannes Grand Prix winner Once Upon A Time In Anatolia. For their inspiration, they turned to the marvellous short stories of Anton Chekhov and the sweeping complex of character-based stories they created as a result was rewarded with this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes.

The film is once again set in the majestic, desolate beauty of Anatolia and while these unique and rugged landscapes are breathtakingly photographed by cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki , we seem to spend the bulk of the film in cramped but cosy interiors where the many long dialogue scenes are played out. Whilst this adds a claustrophobic atmosphere to the story that well serves the interplay between characters who often feel trapped together, it also adds to one of the films biggest challenges which is the combination of its density and its length. At more than three hours, the excellent performances and finely crafted relationships are sometimes hampered by periods of potential audience fatigue as they discuss, at length, moral, ethical and philosophical positions that arise from the clash of interests between the circumstances of their various lives and the way they intersect with Aydin’s increasingly detached and self-absorbed ennui. These issues - the plight of his destitute tenants, the philanthropic passions of his wife, the loneliness of his recently divorced sister – all manage to fuel Aydin’s diaffected view of life.

But this is not just one man’s story. Reflecting its origins, the film is a web of stories that pulls our focus in one direction and then another, building layers of character insights and narratives that propel us towards an ending that, like surviving a harsh winter, brings us back to where we were before and where we will discover what has died and what is about to spring into new life.

There are many outstanding performances in this film, most notably Bilginer’s subtle and faceted Aydin for whom we feel sympathy and contempt almost in the same breath. Other strengths in this fine cast include Isler’s menacing turn as Ismail,  this being counterpointed by Kiliç’s obsequious portrayal of his brother. And, of course, Sözen’s role as the retiring but increasingly forceful Nihal.

Winter Sleep is a powerful, captivating film that pays dividends on the investment of time.




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