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"Trying to understand the human soul"

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Nuri Bilge Ceylan • Director


- Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan decodes Winter Sleep, and explains his theatrical inspirations and his vision of the role of the filmmaker.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan  • Director

Joined by his trio of actors, Aluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen and Demet Akbag, Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan talked to the world’s press to decode his remarkable Winter Sleep [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
film profile
, unveiled in competition at the 67th Cannes Film Festival; it would go on to win the Palme d'Or one week later.

Winter Sleep is a film fuelled by plenty of dialogue, which is a new approach for you. Why this change of tack?
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
: I like dialogue very much, and incidentally, there was plenty of it in my feature debut, Kasaba; but as we didn’t do live sound recordings, we had some problems, and ever since then, I’ve been a bit afraid of dialogue. But I also really like theatre. Not only did I use a lot of dialogue this time around, but it’s quite literary as well. This kind of language is very widely used both at the theatre and in literature, but it’s fairly risky to use it in cinema, and it may very well not work. In my early films, I was very careful to do natural and realistic things, but I realised that’s done a lot today in films and even in TV adverts, in which street language is used quite often. So because of that, I decided to shift towards a more literary type of dialogue, and to see whether Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky could work on the silver screen. Nevertheless, as the dialogue was fairly laborious, I needed professional actors because non-professionals would have had trouble delivering the lines.

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The film tackles a great many themes, from marital relations, through politics, to social issues. Is it a reflection of the events currently taking place in Turkey?
In my film, I make no reference to the current situation in Turkey. Incidentally, I don’t think a director should allude to current events in his or her country, because he or she has a duty to examine things on a broader level. But everything that happens, wherever it is in the world, can be explained by reflecting on human nature. I think that a filmmaker’s duty is different to that of a journalist. Of course, he or she can do the work of a journalist, but more than this, I believe that he or she must speak to the viewer’s soul, try to inject some emotions into it. If the audience learns to feel a little ashamed of certain things, that already means that the film has succeeded in a way. Trying to understand the human soul is what motivates me to make films.

Why did you choose such an extraordinary spot for the shoot?
I didn't want to shoot in that place, but I didn't have any choice after I did some research. I wanted a simple location, but also a touristic one. And yet, in Cappadocia, that was the only place where we could still find tourists in winter. It also needed to be a location away from the big cities – so that was the only place. I was a little afraid about shooting in Cappadocia because it's a region of immense beauty, more than I could have wished for, but I hope I haven’t shown it off too much. I filmed the first snowfall in order to symbolise the change in atmosphere because a little bit of white was good for our mental well-being (laughs). It was cold, sometimes -10°, and we were really freezing. But it didn't snow enough and we had to shoot the snow scenes very quickly.

What was the starting point for the film?
It is based on three short stories by Chekhov, and they inspired some of the dialogue. We come across similar situations in our day-to-day life, and I get the impression that this story was written for Turkey. A human being is still a human being wherever you go, but I can't say that I've made a film on a particular, specific and clear subject. What I like doing is making ambiguous films that end up leaving you with mixed emotions. People sometimes ask me how I would sum up my films in one word or one sentence, and I can't manage it!

Do your characters embody a pessimistic view of existence?
There is just as much hope in my characters as there is in life itself. Some directors like to introduce an optimistic note at the end of their films, but I don't. I'm fairly realistic, and sometimes you have to know how to be a pessimist. I even thought that the end of the movie was a bit too optimistic, and during the edit I made Aydin’s speech a little more confused so that the character’s burden could also be shouldered by his wife a little bit. In the film, I don’t like the fact that we can make out straight away what people are saying, and in the end, Aydin could very well say these words in order to relieve himself, without being honest, so I clouded the issue.

(Translated from French)

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