Every Palme d’Or winner arrives with its own set of high expectations & the winner of this prestigious award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival is no different. However, this Turkish drama from the renowned filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan not only manages to live up to its hype but effortlessly succeeds in completely justifying its new-found honour for Winter Sleep is simply one of the most engrossing, mesmerising & satisfying narratives to surface on the silver screen in the past year, and is amongst the best films of 2014 that paints a very interesting portrait of the significant divide between the rich & poor people living in modern Turkey.
Set in a small region in Central Anatolia, the story of Winter Sleep follows Aydın; the wealthy owner of a mountaintop hotel who used to be a famous actor once but has since fallen into the hibernation mode over the years & now spends his time writing columns for a local newspaper. He also owns several properties in the area which he rents out to local tenants & lives a far more luxurious life than most people around him. But his self-involved persona ultimately brings chaos upon his small kingdom for the animosity of his loved ones & the poor people living under his reign begins to surface like never before and is further fuelled by the approaching winter.
Co-written & directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the film takes a very methodical, patient & firm approach with its narrative and does a stellar job in slowly unraveling the inner details of the various characters inhabiting this tale. The entire story can be seen as an amalgamation of one conversation after another but what really makes this slow-burn drama such an emotionally rich & immersive experience is how each discussion begins & ends plus the fluid switching from one gossip to another. And adding even more strength to its production is its fabulously executed technical aspects & the sincere effort put in by its highly committed cast under the director’s supervision.
The filming locations are wisely chosen while the set pieces are very refined & detailed. The majority of its plot unfolds inside the mountaintop hotel which provides a very calm & secluded ambience but also becomes all the more suffocating as the story progresses & the winter approaches. Cinematography makes extensive but effective use of still shots & slow zooms, relies on minimal movement of camera, and captures its scenic beauty wonderfully while Editing lets the plot unfold at its own pace but it could’ve used a few more trims because although its daunting 196 minutes of runtime doesn’t bother for the most part, it still becomes a bit challenging during the third & final act.
Coming to the performances, Winter Sleep features a committed cast in Haluk Bilginer, Demet Akbag, Melisa Sözen, Tamer Levent & Nejat Isler, and they all fit in seamlessly in their given roles. Leading from the front is Bilginer who is intensely compelling in the role of Aydın; a former actor, hotel owner, writer & landlord who is disliked by everyone around him, thanks to his constant interference in their lives yet is completely oblivious about his falling reign. And he is brilliantly supported by both Akbag & Sözen who play his sister & wife, respectively. The rest of its supporting cast also chip in with impressive performances & there really isn’t anything here that’s worth complaining about.
On an overall scale, Ceylan’s latest feature film is one highly gripping, masterfully told, patiently narrated, gorgeously photographed, firmly edited & superbly performed cinema that works as an exquisitely layered study of a self-righteous character and also presents an interesting look at failing relationships, old age regrets, existing social issues plus the morals of right & wrong. Despite its intimidating runtime, dialogue-driven plot & slow-burn narration, Winter Sleep manages to be an immensely immersive & absorbing piece of filmmaking that does require a bit of patience from its audience but is absolutely worth your time & money. Definitely not for everyone yet thoroughly recommended.