One of the key benefits of film is its ability to bring unexplored and remote locations to the doorstep of the film-going public,
and the setting for Palme d’Or winning movie Winter Sleep, Turkey’s Anatolia region, is a fine example. Surrounded by a community of domiciles carved into steeply sloped rock formations, it gives the feeling of an alien world, so what’s surprising about Winter Sleep is how frustratingly everyday the relationships are.
That’s not to say that the characters are uninteresting, however. Aydin – played by the excellent Haluk Bilginer – is a landlord and hotel owner who lives with his young wife, Nihal, and sister Necla. An educated and well-spoken, retired actor, Aydin is perceived by most as a kind and thoughtful member of the community, although the reality is a little more complicated.
At various points during the film’s substantial runtime the narrative revolves around Aydin’s hunt for a horse, his difficulty receiving money from tenants and a proposed short-term migration to Istanbul. Plot threads often appear to have been forgotten about, only to be brought to a resolution further down the line, but in many ways the more traditional narratives only serve as a distraction from the film’s interesting focus on long, uninterrupted conversation.
Each of the three main characters is restless. With most of their wants provided for, and little else on which to focus their time, heated debate is commonplace but, under director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s patient eye, conversations are allowed to mutate into disagreements and then full-blown arguments. As time goes on in these unique extended scenes, characters themselves evolve, growing more spiteful, stubborn and resentful or gaining confidence and self-belief, despite overwhelming conversational adversaries.
There’s a great vibrancy to the cinematography, but shots always have a purpose. Establishing shots of the unique location are stunning and contrast with the poverty of the tenants living close by.
It’s a challenging watch, not least because of a runtime that clocks in a fair way past the three-hour mark, but there’s a lot on offer for those willing to give it a try. The main themes of family dispute and disharmony are portrayed convincingly and with candour, and the meditative, thoughtful atmosphere will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Winter Sleep is released nationwide on 21st November 2014.
Watch the trailer for Winter Sleep here: