Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep ★★★★★

''Now is the winter of our discontent''

Opening night at my local small town cinema, myself and two elderly men two rows behind me - exactly what I expected (a Turkish subtitled 196 min film with no intermission), and also exactly what I wanted. Near silence and the darkness of the cosy theatre made way for complete immersion into the wintry Anatolian landscape that I had been craving ever since the film's Palme d'Or win at Cannes earlier in the year.

Adored filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan might expand the borders of his visual canvas with every film, but he is also careful never to let anything pretty on screen get in the way of a good story or rich characterization, in fact, what is most striking and remarkable here in Winter Sleep is just how much takes place indoors, where cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki must rely on the inky nooks and amber firelight of these cold interiors to work much of his magic. The dialogue heavy examination of marriage and familial tension is a wonderful melting pot of inspiration from a vast array of Russian wordsmiths such as Chekhov and Dostoevsky, along with a lead character in Aydin, who resembles a true Shakespearean figure, and beyond the Bergmanesque conversations and monologues that are another notable inspiration, we get an insight into class divide in this Cappadocian region, and just how the self-satisfied Ayden looms over all below him in his mountainside hotel.

I never felt the length of this film, but rather felt it earned every second and was suitably paced, offering momentous intelligently written scenes full of barbed dialogue broken up with breathing space, symbolic diversions (the horse and the rabbit elements come to mind), and the wonderful infusion of Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 20 for added gravitas. The journey of Ayden (a memorable performance by Haluk Bilginer) might be the central focus, but the film would be nothing without the two women whose hearts have grown as hard as his own; Demet Akbag as his sister Necla gives him a run for his money and owns one scene in particular, whilst his young and beautiful wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) is so incredibly nuanced that you simply cannot take your eyes off her when she is on screen. The performances all-round are electric, and the way they earnestly deliver the meaty writing deserves a standing ovation.

I am still drunk on this film, and cannot stop thinking about the small moments; a certain guest of the hotel inquisitively attempting to uncover some of Aydin's façade, or the way he thinks of himself as royalty with a chauffer and will not even carry one bag of luggage, but instead watches on as his employee struggles. The arc of Aydin is incredibly well developed and the final conclusion should leave no viewer unsatisfied after sitting with the film for its hefty duration. I could continue to write for days about how much I drew from Winter Sleep, but it is certainly now my pick for best film of 2014, and I will be surprised if anything manages to topple the titan that is Ceylan's masterpiece from the top of my list.

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