Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep ★★★★★

Before I begin, you should know that this is the first "lengthy" review I've written for a long, long time, so bear with me as I try to overcome the anxiety of trying to transform my thoughts into words.

Ok, let's go.

In Winter Sleep, director Nuri Bilge Ceylan once again returns to the barren landscape of Anatolia (ref: Once Upon A Time in Anatolia). This time, specifically in the mountains of Cappadocia.

The rock-cut houses and distinctive mountain formations of Cappadocia form a powerful (and perhaps also metaphorical?) backdrop for a movie where power, morality and humility are key, and humiliations appear in many forms, shapes and sizes. Ceylan uses his rich set of characters to explore the many levels of these themes, and especially how each and every character live a life of self-deception. Especially our main character, Aydin (played by Haluk Bilgin, one the years finest central performances).

Aydin is a self-declared intellectual that thrives on criticizing everyone around him, and believing he is better than most people. However, it doesn't take long before we realize that deep down he is a coward and a hypocrite. It's the digging into his life and the people he is - in differing degree connected with - the movie is all about. There's not really any plot here, and though it does make for a rather long and tiresome viewing experience, it sure as hell is worth the while.

Dug in as caves in the mountains, the former actor Aydin has inherited his hotel and wealth from his father. He also own several houses in the village, which he rents out. Given the poor state of the economy in the region, many seem to struggle with their downpayments. The movies' central conflict is concerned with one family's growing debt.

Being the lazy coward Aydin is, he shies away of any real conflict. The receptionist Hidayet more or less runs the hotel and almost everything else, including the collecting of rent. Still Aydin thinks of himself as a benefactor of the local community, and also devotes himself to business as a writer. He has a regular column in the local newspaper that he’s very proud of, and he also aspires to write a book about the history of the Turkish theatre.

Slowly - like an onion which is peeled, layer by layer - we discover who and what Aydin really is. A fraud… His smug and arrogant personality. His hypocrite ideals. His way of disclaiming all responsibility. Aydin pushes people to the edge, without him actually doing anything... It's through the brilliantly written dialogues between Aydin and his much younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) and his recently divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag) that Ceylan shows us how much of a master he is in modern cinema. Every piece of dialogue has some deeper meaning to it, so that we get new glimpses into the mindset of each character.

I can only guess that Ceylan has been inspired by masters like Ibsen, Bergman and Shakespeare (actually quoted in the film), being that the film is formed as a typical chamber drama in which how the many conversations are central to the story. Not necessarily the cultured conversations, I see them mostly as Ceylan's way of revealing how much of a fake Aydin is, but the discovering of the characters and the building of emotion in each scene. Although Aydin probably thinks very highly of the way he expresses himself, he's an easy man to see through. As his sister Necla says to him in one of the most memorable scenes in the film: "I wish my threshold for self-deception was as low as yours." A scene I won’t easily forget.

In its brilliant way of exploring the themes of power, arrogance and personal humiliation (the fire-scene being probably one of the very best scenes ever, describing how much of a humiliation it is to let go of ones pride), Winter Sleep is a deeply fascinating film. It’s an intimate character study that despite its length and many themes never loses its grip, and is more than worthy of winning this years Palme d’Or. It’s a modern masterpiece. If I find Ceylan’s early work to be as good as his two latest films, he may very well prove himself to be “the Bergman of modern cinema”.

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