Cast: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sozen, Demet Akbag, Ayberk Pekcan, Serhat Kilic, Nejat Isler
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Running time: 196 mins Rating:M (offensive language, content that may disturb); in Turkish with English subtitles
Verdict: Engrossing, though long-winded, character study
Five times honoured at Cannes, Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan won the festival's supreme Palme d'Or last year with this film, but it is less successful than 2011's mesmerising Once Upon a Time In Anatolia, a police procedural dense with existential angst.
The formidable running time will doubtless deter many, which is a shame: Winter Sleep is never less than richly engrossing, even if some scenes, stretched too long, take on a didactic, even slightly hectoring tone.
The film, which consists almost entirely of conversations between two people, is unsurprisingly Chekhovian: Ceylan based the screenplay, which he wrote with his wife, Ebru, on two of the Russian's mid-career short stories (The Wife and Excellent People) and some slabs of dialogue are lifted verbatim.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Aydin (Haluk Bilginer, whom Eastenders fans will recognise) a retired actor, owns a hotel and much more land besides in picturesque Cappadocia. When he's not dispensing or denying favours to his tenants - even his acts of charity drip with vanity - he's writing pompous newspaper columns (one laments the untidiness of the peasant class) and making plans for a history of Turkish theatre.
When his Land Rover is damaged by a stone thrown by a neighbourhood peasant, the son of one of his tenants, Aydin and his driver collar the lad and take him home and the conversation that follows begins to unpeel the layers of district relationships, freighted with complications of class, history and religion.
This opening scene ushers in an exquisitely calibrated series of exchanges, in which Aydin's character slowly comes into focus: those with his divorced sister, Necla (Demet Akbag), and his much younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen), which occupy many minutes at a time, tend to reinforce the latter's conclusion that Aydin is "an unbearable man ... selfish, spiteful and cynical". Some viewers may find it taxing to spend more than three hours in his company.
There is no disputing the magisterial command of the medium on show here. Ceylan and director of photography Gokhan Tiryaki create sublime widescreen visual compositions, even though the film, whose original title means "hibernation", ventures only sparingly into the area's magnificent outdoors, pointedly reminding us that this is a film where the action is internal.
A terrific ensemble gets its teeth into some electrifying scenes, in particular those at the house of the tenant family, but for my money this is a lesser film than Once Upon a Time In Anatolia. Its fondness for allusion to everything from Shakespeare to Bresson seems a little too knowing and it lacks the earlier film's perfect shape and psychological complexity, but it is still the most substantial piece of cinema in town right now, and a useful introduction to one of the medium's giants.
* Follow TimeOut on Facebook