Renowned as a minimalist director, this year’s Palme D’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan is generally better known for having extreme long shots and even longer silences dominating most of his works. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, rest easy; this time round, his characters are a good deal more talkative. Whether this makes the film any easier to watch, however, is another matter altogether.
Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) a middle aged actor with his best work behind him, has moved to Göreme, a tourist area in Turkey, purportedly to run the hotel and take charge of the various estates that belong to the family. In practice, Aydın prefers to stay ensconced in his study planning his book and writing articles for a local newspaper. Then there is Necia (Demet Akbag), his sister, a divorcee who has moved in with the couple and who also prefers her brother’s “hands off” approach. Lastly, we have Nihal (Melisa Sözen), Aydın’s much younger and beautiful wife. She also seems to have adapted to the relatively peaceful existence in this little tourist town. Indeed, the long silences that dominate the house may seem peaceful, but they may also be signs of a brewing storm, and this time, the clouds are gathering over Aydin`s household..
First of all, viewer beware. This is a 3.5 hour film based largely on Turkish dialogue with very little action to explain this dialogue. Having a very high tolerance for reading subtitles will be a distinct advantage. Now, even I, a diehard fan of the director and a native Turkish speaker, have to admit that in parts the film felt a little too “heavy”. Because these are not day to day comments but more often than not a series of dialogues and deep analysis about the character’s lives, the kind of conversations that spring up straight from the heart in families where important matters are suppressed. So the mind games are played out and sentences are carefully chosen to hurt one another, but this means the dialogue is so heavy with content that it is, at times, a little hard to take everything in all at once. This is definitely one to watch a couple more times.
Visually, the film is stunning. Ceylan makes full use of Göreme’s other-worldly landscape that works so well with Ceylan`s favoured long shots and extreme long shots of characters walking alone or driving through the barren landscape. This shows how physically isolated the characters are from their old lives, but also says something about their own inter-family relationships as they are so far from understanding one another’s point of view that they may as well be living on different planets. When composing his shots, Ceylan often opts to keep one character in focus and one out of it; emphasizing the fact that, talk as they might, no two characters are ever actually ‘on the same page’. The result is a bitter sense of loneliness that nothing, not even the presence of those who should be nearest and dearest to us, can seem to break past.
In short, Winter Sleep is neither the happiest of films nor the easiest of films to sit through. But the emotional roller-coaster you will experience as you watch will, in my opinion, make it well worth your while.