Istanbul-born filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s follow-up to the lengthy Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is even more epic and, at 196 minutes, the longest movie to ever win the Palme d’Or at Cannes – although apparently the original cut was a punishing four-and-a-half hours.
Istanbul-born filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s follow-up to the lengthy Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is even more epic and, at 196 minutes, the longest movie to ever win the Palme d’Or at Cannes – although apparently the original cut was a punishing four-and-a-half hours. Whether it’s a Lord of the Rings instalment or Schindler’s List, some audiences might consider any movie clocking over three hours to be too long. And yet, there are amazing things and fabulous performances in Winter Sleep, and brave (and patient) punters will survive, somehow, until the end. Drawn from two stories by Anton Chekhov and inspired by Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Voltaire and (particularly) the films of Ingmar Bergman, this is set in Cappadocia, Central Anatolia, as winter sets in. Isolated, half-empty and fairly impoverished, the local celebrity in this town is our ‘hero’, the getting-on Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), who’s rich, runs a hotel, has a famed acting past, is writing a pretentious sounding (funny about that) book on Turkish theatre and owns property throughout the town. We begin with a drawn-out sequence where we watch Aydin and right-hand-man Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan) collect rent from families that can barely afford it, and have their car window smashed by a rock thrown by young Ilyas (Emirhan Doruktutan). When Ilyas’ drunk, easily enraged dad Ismail (Nejat İşler) gets nasty, Ismail’s grovelling brother Hamdi (Serhat Kilic) comes looking for Aydin’s forgiveness amid wordy discussions about religion, virtue, sin and so forth, which then inspire those around Aydin into verbose action. He has an argument with his troubled sister Necla (Demet Akbağ) that seems to go on forever and lurches from the brilliant to the ridiculous (a real showstopper about his mind games, his hatred of everyone and himself, the grace of God, the evils of money and more), and then Aydin’s young wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) lays in. And this fractured relationship is at the movie’s core, as the oppressed Nihal begins to realise what sort of man she’s married to. As layer upon psychological layer is peeled painfully off and Aydin is driven to fits of anger and mild forms of self-abuse. Finally, he escapes into the picturesquely depressing countryside. Bilginer is magnificent here and proves quite extraordinary in virtually every scene, and he’s matched by Akbağ, Sözen, the menacing İşler and the wonderfully smarmy Kilic. They’re the ones who cut through the interludes of improbably windbag dialogue, the general theatricality and the nutty overlength, and they give it heart even as they visibly freeze. However, it’s a slog, especially as this doesn’t have the engrossing `police procedural’ plot of Ceylan’s previous pic and is, instead, essentially a three-hour-and-sixteen-minute psychodramatic study of an up-himself guy finally discovering what an arsehole he is. Winter Sleep is in cinemas now. Rated M