In the vast hills of Anatolia covered with ice and mud, Ayden (Haluk Bilginer) is a retired thespian living in a secluded part of his enormous inheritance - Hotel Othello. His estates are taken care of by managers and debt collectors allowing him to retreat from the world and submerge in his weekly column in a little known local newspaper. He lives with his beautiful young wife, Nihal, and his divorced sister, Necla, who are both suffocated by his vanity. It is one of the few three plus hour films that doesn’t feel stretched to impress a jury.
Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan teams up with his wife Ebru Ceylan to write this masterpiece that won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2014. Some would argue that Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (2011) was the director’s finest work, but Winter Sleep stands tall in its own right, best work or not.
At the beginning of the film, an angry little boy throws a pebble at the window of Ayden’s car, which shatters, as the film unfolds, much more than just the window. It sets a wheel of events into motion that brings the protagonist face to face with his demons he ignored so deftly all his life. While the outdoors offer a confounding view of timeless curvilinear formations, wild horses and enchanting hilly streams, most of the film is shot indoors in a dimly lit cave-like study in wide screen claustrophobia where Ayden writes his column about morality and godliness. The film tells a taunting tale of class disparity through his tenant, Hamdi, who is trying hard to avoid further humiliation after not being able to pay the rent for months. Nihal is trying to find her identity through her charitable work and Necla is experimenting with her theory of not resisting evil. Throughout the course of the film, we discover everyone’s resentment for one another. The smug, the patronizing, the humble- all shroud in their mask of choice of benevolence or humility.
A foreign film that has twenty minutes long conversations always runs the risk of turning into a reading assignment. Keeping that in mind, Winter Sleep will perhaps impress the followers of Sartre’s philosophy or Bergman’s classics the most.