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REVIEW: Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan – 2014) [Sydney Film Festival]

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When a film is graced with the prestigious Palme d’Or (the top prize at Cannes Film Festival) it comes with the inescapable expectation that innovative cinema is going to be on display. Winter Sleep contains the Palme d’Or winning film in its bloated three hours and fifteen minute running time; but it’s enveloped by so many unnecessary digressions that it’s the cinematic equivalent of making you run two marathons back to back.

Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is a wealthy writer and former “thespian” who runs a beautiful hotel, once his family’s ancestral home, carved into the mountains of Turkey. His estranged and much younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen), along with his divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag) live on the grounds. When Aydin and his right hand man Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan) are driving past a school the young Ilyas (Emirhan Doruktutan) throws a rock at their car window nearly causing an accident. Hidayet drags Ilyas home to his father Ismail (Nejat Isler) and uncle Hamdi (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç) to get an explanation and you realise that Aydin’s wealth spans into real-estate. This ‘down-on-their-luck’ family are his tenants, who have recently had some of their belongings repossessed because they were behind on their rent. These events are the catalyst for the first conversational epic.

Still from Winter Sleep, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's latest Cannes contender

For around an hour and fifteen minutes I sat in muted anticipation for something in Winter Sleep to elicit any kind of reaction. In the first lengthy conversation between Aydin and his sister Necla, I quietly cheered; yes; finally here’s the innovation. Instead of elaborate wars between armed forces, the set pieces are extravagant conversations. In intimate spaces, in varying states of emotion and inebriation you see a group of people so stubbornly intent on their uncompromising values that they’re being around each other is a form of torment. The script from Ebru Ceylan and Nuri Bilge Ceylan (who directs) must have been as thick as War and Peace to accommodate the sheer, meticulous depth required of the exposition required for these characters to dissect each other. N.B Ceylan just whips his performers to deliver on the dialogue, the players are competent (Bilginer, Sözen, Akbag, Ayberk Pekcan, Kiliç,Nejat Isler, Tamer Levent, Nadir Saribacak, Emirhan Doruktutan) without ever being mesmeric. The stand-out though was Serhat Mustafa Kiliç as Hamdi who must wear the facade of grateful submission but who is ultimately fed up of the dispassionate people he must faun over.

Ebru Ceylan and Nuri Bilge Ceylan have the issue that the conversations are ultimately self congratulatory people, puffing their chests about morality, charity, class struggle and faith, when in fact faith and morality have nothing to do with the way that they live their lives. They’re constantly trying to gain the upper hand on each other. When they finally seem to beat the fight out of their opposition, or take it to the point of dismissing everyone involved there’s a strange pseudo-forgiveness that has to occur to allow for another round at a later time and date.

Winter Sleep is a long war of words, when it could have been furious conflict. It’s indulgent and insists upon itself. 

[rating=2]

Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.

Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Written by: Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Starring: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbag, Ayberk Pekcan, Serhat Mustafa Kiliç,Nejat Isler, Tamer Levent, Nadir Saribacak, Emirhan Doruktutan

Haluk Bilginer … Aydin
Melisa Sözen … Nihal
Demet Akbag … Necla
Ayberk Pekcan … Hidayet
Serhat Mustafa Kiliç … Hamdi
Nejat Isler … Ismail
Tamer Levent … Suavi
Nadir Saribacak … Levent
Emirhan Doruktutan … Ilyas

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