Mark Reviews Movies

Winter Sleep


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Cast: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbag, Ayberk Pekcan, Serhat Mustafa Kiliç, Nejat Isler, Tamer Levent, Nadir Saribacak, Emirhan Doruktutan

MPAA Rating: Not rated

Running Time: 3:16

Release Date: 12/19/14 (limited); 1/2/15 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 1, 2015

In the mountains of Anatolia, the man has created a cloistered kingdom for himself. In this place, he can whittle away the days to form an existence of quiet isolation. He writes columns for the local newspaper and listens to the concerns of the locals or the adventures of the guests of the secluded hotel he has inherited from his father.

People don't often stay at the hotel that serves as the primary location of Winter Sleep. The lack of clientele is especially true in the winter, when the roads become too muddy for cars to traverse. The owner's assistant suggests that he cover the roads in gravel, but the man doesn't want to alter the natural beauty of the place, which is constructed into a cavern on the mountainside. "Gravel is natural," the assistant points out to the man, but the man has already made his decision. We suspect that Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) made that decision long ago, but that his decision has little to do with the condition of the road leading to his hotel.

He doesn't want the casual guest. He wants the trip to be an effort, because he only wants to accommodate people who would appreciate the mixture of rustic lodgings and the rocky terrain upon which the hotel sits.

What he wants, really, is only to interact with people who might appreciate him. We imagine that Aydin would be perfectly content if no one stayed at the hotel. We suspect that Aydin doesn't want anyone in his life, save for the fact that he needs other people to confirm that his life has some meaning.

Another way of looking at Aydin's predicament is that of an actor in search of a receptive audience. That's the way the people who know Aydin the best see the man, and maybe we should give some additional credence to the theories of people who have lived with him for years. He was, after all, an actor at some point in time before he inherited the hotel. At first, the theory sounds like cheap psychoanalysis—the kind of insult that likely gets thrown at anyone who ever took to a stage or stood in front of a camera and pretended to be another human being. It's the old idea that an actor always needs some kind of drama in his life, even when he's not performing.

We also reject the notion in the beginning section of the film, because the screenplay by director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his wife Ebru Ceylan spends the entirety of the first act on a conflict that Aydin appears to do everything in his power to avoid. In addition to the hotel, Aydin has inherited his father's other property throughout the area, which mostly includes houses for rental. Ismail (Nejat Isler), one of his tenants, has not paid his rent in some time, and his son (Emirhan Doruktutan) has thrown a rock at the window of Aydin's truck as he and Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan), Aydin's assistant, are making their rounds.

Upon returning the boy to his home, Hidayet and Ismail get into an argument, but Ismail's brother Hamdi (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç), the area's imam, intervenes. All the while, Aydin stands by the truck. He offers some words of consolation. The throwing of the rock wasn't a big deal. They shouldn't worry about paying for the damages. Surely, the family and Hidayet can come to some sort of agreement about the rent at a later time. Aydin seems weary of and burdened by business.

From here, the film essentially becomes a chamber drama. Aydin writes or talks to visitors, guests, a couple of friends, and family. As it progresses, the Ceylans unravel the initial lie of the confrontation with Ismail and Hamdi, with Aydin writing a gossipy piece about the failures of "certain" local religious men (There's also a very funny bit in which Aydin "suggests" that Hamdi wear slippers in his office but can only procure a pair of women's shoes; it doesn't change Aydin's rule). From there, the film meticulously takes apart the lie that is Aydin's outward appearance as a kind, intellectual, and self-envisioned lord of the region—one who has little interest in finances and really only cares for the spiritual and cultural betterment of the community. He has designed a world for himself, and all that world is his stage.

The key is a pair of scenes. The first is between Aydin and his sister Necla (Demet Akbag), who lays out the details of his hypocrisy in a way that makes us reevaluate everything we thought we knew about a man who just seemed world-weary. The second is a lengthy fight between him and his decades-younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen), in which we can sense Aydin taking actorly beats between monologues framing himself as the suffering or frustrated husband. Ceylan and cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki, who revel in the landscapes as they become progressively bleaker with the approaching winter, shoot that scene in natural light and oppressive shadows. It's the world as Aydin knows it fading from sight.

That world disappears in the film's extended denouement ("lengthy" and "extended" because the film is 196 minutes long), in which Aydin considers leaving Anatolia for some new and unknown adventure. Winter Sleep is captivating as a study of the character's mindset, but here, the film takes on a far more melancholy view. It's not just a mindset; it's a dilemma—and a tragic one at that. There are consequences to building walls around oneself. By their nature, the ones that deny entry do not allow escape, either.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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