Here’s the Scoop on Palme d’Or Winner ‘Winter Sleep’
Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or, was by far the longest film in competition this year (Last year’s gorgeous winner Blue is the Warmest Colour was also the longest film in competition, so maybe a pattern is emerging?). The film, clocking in at 196 minutes, depicts a Chekhov-inspired tale of a curmudgeon (Haluk Bilginer) who slowly, gradually comes to realize the damage his selfish, privledged life has brought upon his family.
Indiewire describes Bilginer’s character as “a bearded, middle-aged grouch who lives on a hill high above Inherited land owned by his late father. An ex-actor thinking about writing a book project on Turkish cinema, he lives in the shadow of his previous accomplishments, alienated from the community that resents his his privilege. ‘The elephant gave birth to a mouse,’ he sighs, one of many instances in which Ceylan’s textured script matches his movie’s symbolic visuals that draw out the conceit of a man antagonized by everyone around him.”
Ceylan’s previous film, the stunning Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, was a co-winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2011. The Turkish film is, in many ways, a precursor to, and spiritual forefather of Winter Sleep. At close to three hours, the slow, patient film has an ethereal aura about it, shot in burning hues, beams of slight cutting through the dark rural night. It’s sedulously paced and deliberately reveals very little. Ceylan likes to make his audience work, a habit leftover from his avant-garde days.
The film stars Muhammet Uzuner (who looks like The Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers in some shots), Yılmaz Erdoğan, and Taner Birsel. respectively playing a knowledgeable doctor, a commissar, and a prosecutor all spending a long, dark night searching for the hidden body of a murder victim in order to get a conviction.
There’s little suspense in the film, but constant tension: We know who committed the murder, since they have the subject in custody and he admits to the crime. He just doesn’t remember where in the vast, sprawling nothingness of the Turkish countryside he left the body. Ceylan’s pacing may be seen as a sort of act of attrition by some, since it is a monumental undertaking.
But Ceylan is punctilious and punctual and articulate in his camerawork, his lensing, his staging; he favors long take and minimal camera movement, using the contrast between golden swaths of light and inky blackness to visually emote. There’s a lot of vacant stares and whispered musings here, and getting up for a bathroom break shatters the spell being woven. It’s a tough film, but the persistent will be rewarded.
Winter Sleep is even tougher, with a half-hour of more talking and even more stoicism. The Los Angeles Times describes the film’s characters as tragic: “After an opening scene that lays out, in the movie’s picturesque Cappadocia town, class tensions between the wealthy landowning stratum (of which the middle-aged Aydin is a part) and the poor residents who see little but hopelessness and harassment from their unofficial masters, the movie shifts into a lower gear. Aydin soon gets into a series of extended one-on-one conversations with his younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen) and divorcee sister Necla (Demet Akbag) over their respective life choices and one’s purpose on this earth generally.”
The film currently lacks U.S. distribution.