I finally got a chance to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s magnificent Winter Sleep, a Turkish film made and released in late 2014 but not making it to Winnipeg theatres (probably because it’s 196 minutes long). Unlike Ceylon's last film, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which had very little dialogue, Winter Sleep is over three hours of almost nonstop dialogue, featuring one long conversation after another. Like Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Winter Sleep (based on a Chekhov short story) is as slow-paced as films get, but the fascinating, often intense, conversations, the impeccable acting and the detailed character development made the film feel much shorter than 196 minutes would suggest (though if sitting through a 196-minute, slow-moving, dialogue-heavy, foreign language film sounds like torture to you, then you should probably stay away).
Winter Sleep is set, in winter, in a gorgeous part of Anatolia, in Turkey (shown with Ceylan’s customary stunning cinematography), and most of the film takes place inside one of the most amazing homes I have ever seen, a large house/hotel built into a rock. The house becomes one of the film’s characters as its cold dark rooms play host to the long conversations between Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), an aging wealthy landowner, his young wife, Nihal (Melisa Sozen) and his sister, Necla (Demet Akbag). Shorter conversations with one of Aydin’s tenants, hotel guests and the servants are also featured.
As this long film progresses, more and more of Aydin’s personality and thought is revealed through his long conversations, which include ethical themes like not resisting evil or the role of religion or the plight of the poor and the wealthy. But it is in Aydin’s arguments with Nihal that we see the extent of his lack of empathy toward those around him. A former actor, and now a columnist, Aydin claims to be favouring important causes in the area but when Nihal tries to start a charity to improve the schools, his support for her is underwhelming. But the ambiguous ending leaves room for hope that all is not lost in this unhappy home.
A deep profound film with lots to discuss (if you can find someone with whom you can discuss a 196-minute film), Winter Sleep deserves no less than **** (yet another **** film from 2014, since I don’t think I can count it as a 2015 film). My mug is up.