Original Title: Kis Uykusu (2014.) , Turkey
Not so long ago I’ve seen Nuri Binge Ceylan movie “Once upon a time in Anatolia” while trying to catch up highly praised movies that I didn’t have time to watch. In the same time, while I was still under the influence of the emotional and detailed story of “Anatolia”, I heard that new Ceylan movie “Winter Sleep” has won “Palme d’Or” at Cannes film festival. Praises for “Winter Sleep” were pouring from the critics and I couldn’t wait to finally see it. DVD was released before Christmas and I’m happy to say that I’ve finally seen that, highly appreciated, movie.
Story of “Winter Sleep” is focused on the characters of Aydin, former actor, columnists for the local newspaper and the owner of the hotel; his wife Nihal, humanitarian worker and his much younger wife; his sister Necla who is suffering from her recent divorce. Most shots in the film are the shots of interior, shots of the vast hotel in the mountain and when Ceylan manages to put camera outside then we see Anatolia in all her beauty and we feel relieved. Ceylan is famous by his outdoor takes, his film “Once upon a time in Anatolia” was almost completely shot in exterior scenes. This one, however, is complete opposite and in the rare occasions when camera is taken outside it is done with brilliance which only few directors possess today.
Aydin sees himself as some kind of good-hearted king from fairy-tales. Some critics qualified the film as “gabfest” and while the dialogs are the most important part of it, I don’t think they had the patience to see it through. “Gabfest” would be a problem if the “gab” was meaningless. Here, that’s surely not the case. Dialogs, together with masterful visualizations, create an atmosphere of the film that is not boring or tiresome, it is wonderfully shocking. Aydin is rich man in a poor environment. He has his tenants who don’t pay him rent, he has Hidayet, his manager who deals with all sorts of things he don’t won’t to, and he has his guests at the hotel with which he often talks about the past when Omar Sharif was there or when he was acting in the theatre. That guests, seem to me, are his shelter from the harsh environment and deprivation that surrounds him. As is often the case with “king” who refuses to see anything but what he wants to see, those that are closest one to him start to criticize him. Necla and Nihal are talking to him about his hypocrisy, about delusion of grandeur he developed about himself, and poor imam from the tenant’s family is the symbol of that delusion.
– How can you criticize spirituality, Necla says to him, when you didn’t shed a tear for your father on his grave.
– Must I go to the mosque to write about religion? – asks Aydin.
Film is full of such conversations which are destined to be a treasure chest for theorist of popular culture and in them we can find questions we’re bound to ask ourselves. What’s the nature of evil? Will evil become good if you give it the chance? Will evil follow the path of good just because you show that path with your own example? All those questions are raised by this film and not all of them are answered. End credits of the movie prove my point as Chekhov, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and Voltaire are mentioned as quoted authors of the movie. It is Dostoevsky that comes to mind more often than not while movie lasts, and especially in one particular scene.
Aydin, as I said already has tenants which are poor and their ability to pay their rent is limited. They are plot devices that keep the story going. But they are, imam especially, crucial for understanding of the main characters. We can see Aydin as Shakespearean character, king on the throne consumed by his illusion of greatness; but we can also see them as poor people trying to do their best to live life with dignity and honor even if they don’t have the capacity to always honor what they are, as tenants, supposed to.
In the beginning of the movie the boy from that family comes to Aydin and in a highly grotesque scene he is supposed to kiss his hand. Parallel with Shakespearean characters comes to mind once again. That noble try by imam to settle the differences between them ends up with ruining the relationships of all characters in the movie, and everything – all that drama – starts again. In a mirror of that event later in the movie there is Nihal trying to help poor family and that particular boy but her goodwill is met with refusal and an action so symbolical that it could’ve come from Dostoevsky novel. As always with Ceylan, there is no coincidence.
“Winter Sleep” is cinematic experience but it’s also an intellectual drama, novel on the screen that needs to be “read” several times to be fully understood. “Winter Sleep” is also slow-paced study of character, human nature and reactions of the two halves of the social specter in the circumstances when they are forced to interact.
Highly recommended movie, great experience with wonderful acting performances and masterful direction. But also, not for everyone.