Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep

Postby CAP » Sat Dec 13, 2014 3:45 pm

Winner of this year’s Golden Palm award at Cannes (i.e. Best Film Ever) running a daunting 196 minutes, starring sometime East Enders character, Haluk Bilginer as protagonist Aydin, featuring the picturesque and popular location of Cappadocia with its distinctive caves adapted into a honeycomb of ancient housing, in Anatolia (Eastern Turkey) - and yet somehow this one didn’t really do it for me. I give it seven. It’s well done and an interesting departure for director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, but I’m not sure it’s a direction I want to follow.

In a lot of ways this is the most accessible of his movies that I’ve seen. There is still a lot of Turkish cultural context needed and there’s interesting commentary about this following reviews like that in The Guardian, but for the most part the ample and often incisive dialogue nails the main points. It is essentially a character study, echoing certain national traits. There is no actual plot, which is what slows the pace and alerts us to more thematic concerns, usually flagged in setting, hour or season, and previously this had been the director’s strong point: a keen eye before an ear. But here the scenery tends to look pretty rather than symbolic, the framing, elegant but not portentous. The images rarely stop us in our tracks, as they do in Three Monkeys. The location is almost too quaint or familiar to really serve as the kind of retreat the director surely intends. Although some of this tourist-trap aspect is crucial to the character’s platform. We are often talking about just this kind of clichéd marketing of Turkey and the hollowness it brings to proprietors.

Previously I’d supposed the pictorial elegance was the contribution of regular cinematographer, Gökhan Tiryaki but since then I see the director has had an exhibition of his photography at the Tina Kim Gallery in New York, older work that confirms a taste for shallow depth of field or acute focus, strong, possibly digitally adjusted tonalities and severe, somewhat storyboard-like framing. He seems to have been a photographer first, a moviemaker later. And the progression is certainly to a more articulated, nuanced psychology, to a more verbal exposition. In retrospect, we can see this in Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, particularly in the scenes between the prosecutor and the doctor in the long night at a farmhouse. But this growing articulation tends to rob the images of some of their power, their insinuation. The director no longer needs the attention to setting and atmosphere or even framing and the movies are a little smoother, perhaps a little more pedestrian for it.

Yet Ceylan is hardly about to surrender to realism. Winter Sleep has a deeper, darker agenda than simply the ineffectual meddlings of a retired actor in provincial exile. Aydin is meant to be a stereotypical Western-looking bourgeois, caught or hiding amid the trappings of a shop-worn heritage. But at the same time the peculiarities of his situation disperse any effective linkage to class or culture. I’m undecided whether this is a good or bad thing. What we are left with is a deeply flawed man in a frankly byzantine social predicament, but so what? If he signifies some state of Turkey or Turkish patriarchy, it is so complex and convoluted as to lose all impact. If it is a study in psychology, equally it is complicated by local factors, sundry incident and a seasonal economy. Again, the effect is ultimately so diffuse as to be indifferent.

Even the title seems slightly skewed. Winter is most assuredly foremost, but ‘sleep’ does not really figure literally or figuratively, even in speech. Some critics assume the director means that Aydin is in a kind of hibernation, preparing to write the definitive history of Turkish theatre, but this seems more like procrastination than hibernation. No one in the movie seems unawake or especially tired. ‘Sleep’ never really finds any great resonance in the story. There are striking images of captivity and liberation in Aydin’s brief acquisition of a wild horse – a symbol of the Anatolian Steppe – and something of this echoes throughout various characters and situations – but in a movie flagged for sleep, only adds to the sprawling nature of the story. The length, as noted, is partly the result of a story that can only accumulate incidents and disclose facts about Aydin in the absence of a plot. But this more leisurely approach not only taxes the viewer, but at points, confuses the maker. There arise troubling inconsistencies, as when Aydin claims to have had a deprived childhood while at other times acknowledging he inherited various rental properties from his father, enabling him to pursue a career in acting. This sounds like a script evolving just a little too much over a marathon shoot.

Then there are the abrupt shifts in the character of Aydin’s estranged young wife, Nihal (the beautiful Melisa Sözen) where in one scene she coolly dismantles the idle notions of her divorced sister-in-law Necla (Demet Akbag) for ‘not resisting evil’ (something like the Christian notion of turning the other cheek) in the hope of inspiring greater self-awareness in transgressors. In response, Nihal bemusedly accuses her of watching too many soap operas. Yet elsewhere, Nihal’s efforts at fund-raising are supposedly amateurish and lacking records. Sözen is superb at conveying a very modern scrutiny of standards but her later regression into dithering and naivety when she attempts to donate a large sum to impoverished tenants just strains credibility. The problem is not her performance but a script that wants to do too many things with her character; that has just a little too much time on its hands. The same holds for the movie generally.
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