When I walked into Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s movie, Winter Sleep, at the Cannes Film Festival, I was really apprehensive that it would literally push me into a slumber.
For, it was three hours and fifteen minutes long, and the Turkish helmer was known to narrate his stories with an "I have all the time in the world" attitude. But the movie just sucked me in, and the first time my mind wandered out of Ceylan’s little world of deeply personal relationships and conflicts was when Winter Sleep was just about to end.
Out of the theatre, I asked myself why I had been so enraptured by the film. It really does not have a story in the real sense of the term. But it has a great script, and this great script is narrated with exciting ease, and helping to push the narration are the riveting performances.
As one reviewer quipped, "Ceylan’s cast acts with such precision and feeling that even Ingmar Bergman would have applauded".
Winter Sleep is magnificently mounted, the lighting is alluring, and the shots – each one of them – are composed with breathtaking imagination. Ceylan told me during an interview here yesterday after the screening that he had found the hotel, where much of the story unfolds, after a long search. Yes, there were biographical elements in it, and the movie reflected the current state of Turkish society. But this could be common to so many other places in the world today.
Shot in a small Cappadocia village in the middle of scenic natural beauty, Winter Sleep centres on a former theatre actor turned writer/journalist and his relationship with his pretty young wife and sister going through a divorce.
Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), a middle aged former actor, has inherited the hotel and most of the land around it. He is a thinker, and one of his projects is to write the history of Turkish theatre. His sister, Necla (Demet Akbag), is bitter, cynical and sharp tongued. She is staying in the hotel. Wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen) feels intellectually inferior to her husband and tries to fill the void by engaging in social work. Her husband does not like this.
These characters live in a kind of pressure-cooker existence which is accentuated with the coming of winter, a season that keeps them indoors and at nodding distances from one another. A little later into the picture, more characters are introduced: an unruly boy who breaks the window pane of Aydin’s car, his apologetic father, aggressive uncle and so on. Through these men and situations, Ceylan establishes his protagonist’s character.
Winter Sleep evokes plenty of tension. And there is nothing lethargic or sleepy or wintery about the film. With haunting close-ups (that made Bergman such a powerful director), Ceylan presents what is essentially an intimate tale of three people, forced to live in close proximity by relationships and the season itself. “You see the seasons very well in Turkey, and it changes human psychology and behaviour”, Ceylan averred.
Winter Sleep may well clinch the top Palm d’Or.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is now covering the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, and may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)