Winter Sleep: the small theatre of conscience
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2014: Nuri Bilge Ceylan dissects the facets of the human comedy in an isolated hotel in Central Anatolia. Some great cinema for the Cannes competition
"Conscience is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe." This quote by Richard III from Shakespeare, uttered in a state of complete drunkenness by one of the characters from Winter Sleep [+see also:
interview: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
film profile], the new film from Nuri Bilge Ceylan presented in competition at the 67th Cannes Film Festival, delivers without a doubt one of the principal keys for the interpretation of a film rooted in the theatre of the English master and artfully adapted Turkish style. Dissecting like an entomologist the multiple facets of the human comedy, taking her time (3h16) to develop a plot whose secrets emerge gradually, and providing a refined display of the science of the director’s work, the film embraces an immense philosophical ambition condensed beneath the apparent simplicity of life’s adventures of a trio of hotel owners amidst the caves and hills of Central Anatolia. But the fire is smouldering beneath this tranquil land as winter approaches.
Aydin (the wonderful Aluk Bilginer) is a rich man in the region. A former actor (of theatre), he took over the family home and has several rented houses in the neighbouring town. Delegating the management of daily problems to his handyman Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan), he spends his days in a separate office, writing editorials for the local newspaper La voix de la steppe, rehashing anecdotes of the past and happy to continue enjoying his comfortable way of life: "my Kingdom is small, but I am King". Much younger than him, his wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) organises charitable events. Living with them is Aydin’s sister Necla (Demet Akbag), divorced and idle. The end of the tourist season comes to an end, mud has invaded the roads and the first snowfall approaches. But one event will shatter this ordered calm, with one of Aydin’s tenant families, threatened with eviction, having already had its property repossessed, and one of the members of this family, the Koranic teacher Hamdi (Serhat Kiliç), moves heaven and earth in order to obtain the forgiveness and benevolence of an Aydin embarrassed and annoyed by this courteous harassment. And Necla, suffering ("How could I leave Istanbul to bury myself in this hole with you?"), interferes, bombarding her brother with arguments on the issue of the behaviour to adopt in the face of evil, before attacking him on his way of life, his complacency and his manner of giving lessons on issues that he doesn’t know. Aydin vigorously turns the argument back on her ("No man could bear such a viperine tongue"), but the issue becomes more complicated when we discover that he and his wife Nihal have for two years been living completely parallel lives under the same roof after a long period of confrontation, an armistice which won’t last long...
Grounded in high-calibre dialogues and filmed to perfection, Winter Sleep is a feature film demanding attention and patience, two qualities sometimes bandied about in the dictatorship of contemporary speed, but which remain infinitely precious for the history of the seventh art. Studying in depth the pretences, the conflicts and the shades of human emotion, Nuri Bilge Ceylan also sketches an interesting picture of social classes (the wealthy, servants, teachers, the poor), a theme which he is especially fond of and which he sprinkles this time with touches of humour. And the sophisticated existentialist mechanism of this small Turkish theatre is unquestionably great (and very demanding) cinema on a par with the previous works of a director already two-time winner of the Cannes Grand Prize (with Uzak in 2003 and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia [+see also:
film profile] in 2011) and winner of the Best Director Award for Three Monkeys [+see also:
interview: Zeynep Ozbatur
film profile] in 2008.
(Translated from French)