Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep ★★★★½

There's a scene in Ceylan's masterful drama that is one of the most powerful that I've seen this year. A man is offered a large sum of money by a younger woman, after several minutes of observing the man's disgusted reaction to this charitable donation he finally throws the money in the fire as the woman looks on in horror. It's a moment of extreme tension and a brilliantly shrewd example of the weakening effects of capitalism. One of Ceylan's real strengths is the way that he is able to show the ramifications of unequal wealth and how the landowner becomes a tyrant while the poor are forced into positions of subservience and humiliation. His central character Aydin, a wealthy man who owns several properties doesn't think he is to blame for this unfortunate disparity, he is just a part of a society where he doesn't make the rules.
Ceylan slowly harnesses the film's power so that you don't always initially notice the subtle threads that tie everything together where one person's actions can cause waves of calamitous consequences. You sense that Aydin is a shadow of a man that he used to be, somewhere underneath the bitterness possibly lies a decent person but time and circumstance dissolved his good nature. We are shown mere glimpses of this occasional virtuousness including a beautiful moment where he sets a horse free into the wilderness, which provides a stark contrast with his controlling relationship with his wife. Internal spaces are always presented as being intensely claustrophobic so that they feel nearly asphyxiating. Aydin's poisonous negativity is able to dominate the atmosphere to such an extent as if to drain all of the joy out of any situation or character that dares to be positive. In sharp contrast we are also shown images of mountainous landscapes that are stunning and breathtaking to behold which allows the film to avoid being overly oppressive giving the viewer breathing space just at the right time. At nearly three and a half hours long its a slow burn for sure and requires a lot of patience to get to the dramatic heights that I've mentioned but ultimately this is a wonderfully humane drama where every character is given dramatic substance and every decision made by that character affects the lives of several other people. That last gaze from Aydin at the Anatolian village that he will leave behind expresses a lifetime of regret.

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