Winter Sleep | Kis Uykusu (2014)

November 19th, 2014
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Cast: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbao; Turkey/ France/Germany, 2014, 196 min.

Set deep in the mountain region of Cappadocia in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme D’Or Winner is, in spite of its considerable length, a dense and often very confrontational portrait of human fallibility. Even though it takes place inside a claustrophobic hotel, the outdoor scenes are riveting, set against the background of the majestic mountains.

Men are usually out of touch in all of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films, and in WINTER SLEEP, his new anti-hero Aydin (Bilginer) is no exception. An ex-actor, he owns and runs a hotel, but his real (inherited) wealth is derived from rentals and businesses in the nearby villages. Aydin sees himself as an enlightened feudal lord; mostly spending his days in the hotel, where he writes a daily column for the local newspaper, leaving the dirty work to his right-hand man Hydayet, his lawyers and the bailiffs. He is therefore shocked, when Ilyas, a small boy, throws a stone into the side window of his jeep. It later emerges that his father, Ismail, has been visited by the bailiffs for unpaid rent. In an absurdly degrading scene, Hamdi, Ilyas’ uncle and the local iman, brings the child to Aydin’s hotel, were he has to kiss “the master’s” hand in the presence of Aydin’s much younger wife Nihal (Sözen).

At home, where Aydin lives with Nihal and his recently divorced sister Necla (Akbao), he again presents himself as somebody he is not: the tolerant intellectual, man of the world, writing an history of the Turkish theatre, and letting the women get on with their lives – which is obviously not as important or interesting as his. The reality is, that Nihal lived for many years in fear of him, and even now, he tries to interfere in her charity work, treating her like a teacher would treat a not particularly clever child. His passive-aggressive behaviour towards his sister, the only person brave enough to tell him the truth (“I wish my threshold of self-deception was as low as yours”), culminates in him accusing her of failing to prevent her ex-husband’s alcoholism. Whilst he is benevolent and generous to the few hotel guests, he treats the women with arrogance and utter impudence.

Doubtless, Ceylan pays homage to Bergman and Bresson: in the long, vicious arguments between Aydin and his wife/sister, the camera catches the protagonists in shot/contra-shot movement, the close-ups showing the hurt on the faces of the women, and Aydin’s sarcastic smile. In choosing Schubert’s piano sonata no. 20, which Bresson used in Au hazard Balthazar, Ceylan connects not only Nihal’s treatment by Aydin to the French master, but also shows the wild horses of the region; one of them, Aydin, in a more generous mood, frees, so it can return to the wild.

In the last hour, changes are signaled, when Aydin decides to go to Istanbul for the winter, only to change his mind, landing himself and his wife in unconnected situations, which serve as a showdown for both of them. The widescreen camera catches the wintry landscape in panorama shots, as well the equally cold relationships inside the hotel. Bilginer’s Aydin is a wonderful study of a heartless tyrant, who tries to fool everyone, but only succeeds in being more and more isolated. Sözen’s Nihal is vulnerable, but she tries to fight her husband, even if he just chuckles, when called “selfish and spiteful”. Akbao’s sister is angry and alone, since she does not take Nihals’ side, instead she starts longing for her ex-husband, even he seems to be agreeable than her brother. Ceylan’s intensity never lets up, leaving WINTER SLEEP as an unforgettable chronicle of human psychological warfare, in the midst of a magnificent winter landscape. AS


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