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Winter Sleep (Kis uykusu) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
24 12 2014

ImageDirected by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

I seem to have spent a lot of time this year watching films with high expectations, fuelled by the reputation and recent work of the directors, expectations that are - not dashed exactly, but that dribble away into vague disappointment: Michôd's The Rover, Zvagintsev's Leviathan, The Dardennes' 2 Days 1 Night, Leigh's Mr Turner... and next, sadly, and seemingly inevitably, after the majestic Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep, beautiful, often masterly, would-be profound, but which seems never to quite find its way. I'm beginning to think it must be me.

Aydin is a middle aged retired actor (‘oh but I was never in soaps') who now keeps an ethnic-style hotel in the majestically beautiful area of Cappadocia which he shares with his young wife Nihal and sister Necla. A pleasant enough chap with his guests, he soon begins to be revealed as pompous and self-regarding, writing a patronising weekly column for the local paper and dismissive of Nihal's efforts to do something concrete for the local community. This is revealed in long tetchy conversations with his sister and wife, where he remains untouched and unconcerned about their situations and feelings, with the ever present supercilious smile and ‘like olive oil, always floating to the top' in every encounter. That the hotel is named The Othello does indeed presage jealousy, but it's not sexual, it's an envy of his wife's having her own ring of acquaintances and getting something done in the world, his attempt at belittling and taking over her realm indicating, really, that he is aware of the shallowness and narrowness of his own life. Then there's the business of the disaffected tenants whose belongings have been removed when their rent wasn't paid, a drunken hot head and his son, and his brother the imam who tries to pour oil on the troubled waters by smiling his way into Aydin's favour.

But mind-blowingly beautiful landscapes, gorgeous glowing interiors and the ‘Chekhovian' self-revealing dialogues, all those Ceylan staples, never quite gel into a credible whole. The dialogues, which I would say take up at least half the 3+hours-worth of the film, are shot in unfancy fashion, one face cutting away to the other, and though to begin with they work dramatically, as winter sets in and the tourists leave the talking becomes overlong and tedious, not so much meaningfully, more as if marking time while the film hunts for its own justification. The climactic encounter where Nihal goes alone in the night (unlikely timing, surely?) to make peace with the tenants is protracted to the point of the urge in this audience member at least to shout ‘Get on with it!', particularly when the fate of her peace-offering is signalled for all still alert by the insistent sound of the off camera crackling fire. The symbolic wild horse, painfully captured then later released, though filmed with Ceylan's customary mixture of delicacy and power, and the rather predictable shooting of the rabbit, too easy a symbol, surely, feel like a striving towards meaning rather than something organically arising from the impetus of the film, specially when compared to Ceylan at the top of his game, like the wonderfully ambiguous apple falling from a tree and rolling down a stream in Once Upon a Time...

To me, the final ‘resolution' is not credible in the slightest, maybe because I never really saw any kind of redemption taking place in Aydin. Or is that the point? That they are all condemned to continue in their particular comfortable and beautiful circle of hell, pretending things are, after all, ok? Taking a winter sleep from reality? The trouble was, I didn't care.

Seen a Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, 17 December 2014

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