Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep ★★★★½

Despite sitting next to someone who started snoring for a large portion of the film, I enjoyed every minute of this new Ceylan masterpiece. The 2014 winner of the Palme D'or was just about the equal best film I saw at the 2014 CIFF.

Winter Sleep concerns a particular patriarchal type painfully awakening his heart and interaction with life from a long dormant period of hibernation. From the outset we are privy to his character flaws and how this subtly weaves and constructs the world around him. Despite his attempted presentation, he is through direct definition and indirect presentation observed as being incredibly self-absorbed, detached, subtly offensive and oppressive, and above all wrapped up in the overriding priorities of pride, which pervade every aspect of his being. His vices, particularly his indifference to the nature of external suffering, are plain for all viewers to see, but the way that they are unraveled, and eventually confronted, is the real ticket item here. As the film goes on, the characters around him also become more unreliable, complex, flawed and fragile, and we start to sympathise with the dilemma of the protagonist despite the somewhat unforgiving world he has had a part in producing. Horses are also made analogous to humans in all the psychological constraints of human relations in order to drill this point home (and allow some beautiful scenes to boot). A background of supporting characters, in various stages of their lives, and from a variety of socio-economic and geographic backgrounds, also helps populate the presentation of environmentally mediated human psychology. There are words, and there are genuine actions, and the protagonist learns to thaw all his mannered senses, to listen, think, feel and care, to demonstrate his emotional intelligence, in ways that he has not for a long long time.

It lacks some of the unique appeal of Ceylan's previous film, which for me held a unique winning blend of homicide procedural, Kiarostami and Tarkovsky. The content here is slightly less distinctive and more clearly follows an established lineage. Given that this alternatively reminded me a lot of Bergman and other comparably intense talky relationship explorations, there were times in this film that I felt this would be perfect as a TV cut in the manner of Scenes... or Fanny.... Watching this over an afternoon with demarcated break points would be ideal, allowing one to luxuriate in its all-encompassing psychological character study and social panorama.

Some will ponder whether it is really all worth investing your time in. When it concludes, you feel slightly bludgeoned into loving it (and some will subsequently rip this film to pieces for those reasons). Whilst it never bores and flies by, there were aspects of the narrative construction that may potentially have been constructed differently to produce similar effect. The sister's disappearance from the film (leading one briefly to even suspect suicide) also somewhat cheapens her use in terms of narrative construction. It's a great film, but how great will require further viewings to determine. Whilst I loved this, it didn't quite standout for me on it's own terms and separate itself from comparable works. It's an instant classic but far from a vital new inclusion to cinema history. The moral questions and topical questions posed in the film are not quite sustaining enough, except in how they expose the sheer unoriginality and collapse the facade of the protagonist. If this film does stand out in any way, it is through its circular handling of epic, heated conversational exchanges, which throughout the course of the film become somewhat of an art form. The subtleties of resistance, inconclusiveness, development and the haunting unsaid, withheld and social/emotional barriers can be felt throughout the inundation of every argument. Hamdi is particularly haunting through his clearly exhausting burden yet slightly slimy but well-intended eager-to-please social decorum.

I was also distracted somewhat by the jaw dropping setting, and some of the humorous similarities to Brando I saw in the protagonist. It took me back to Autechre's album Amber, my entry point into my favourite music act, and an album which actually celebrated its 20th anniversary in the last few days. The protagonist also bears resemblance to Brando in appearance, back-story, Godfather-esque pretensions and in some ways his human struggle and the way he is seen by those around him. These personal fandoms couldn't help but infiltrate my experience with the film, providing the film with external layers of personal interest.

Winter Sleep is an incredibly rich film experience. Through the central character study, we get a heightened sense of the broader relationships between human nature and environment, between individual and society, between self-love and genuine compassion, between gestures of ineffectual charity and genuine sharing, between inward self-acceptance and an outward open mind. Turkey in many ways is situated uniquely to tackle these mammoth, essential issues. On one hand I loved it, but on another hand I couldn't help but feel that I had already seen a lot of this before. At its best, it takes the viewer along with the protagonist on a path towards deflated pride and a thawed heart, a way out of those self-inflicted prisons we can build for ourselves and those around us. I hope to fall even more in love with it the next time that I see it.

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