Reflections on Ceylan’s ‘Winter Sleep’

Winter Sleep Poster

From celebrated Turkish film-maker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, comes the Winter Sleep (2014, Turkish), an intensely absorbing drama that mostly centers on familial relationships. To me the entire film seemed like a philosophical discourse on the subjective nature of human perceptions and the repulsive consequences they bring to relationships. The film brings the life of Mr.Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), an ex- actor and a landlord, who owns hotel ‘Othello’, in the cave dwellings of Central Anatolia. Mr. Aydin also writes weekly columns in the local daily, mostly on art and morality, besides preparing himself to write a book on the History of Turkish Theatre.

Winter sleep is shrouded with characters that are lonely, skeptic and forlorn. Mr. Aydin’s young wife Mrs. Nihal, his recently divorced sister Necla all share the same air of disenchantment on life and as the film progresses we learn that Mr.Aydin tops this chart. Through his masterful story weaving, Ceylan brings gender politics, economical class divide and the Turkish way of life, seamlessly blended.

The film running for a not-so-easy 196 minutes, on patient viewing certainly delivers a magnificent experience. The film is driven by the characters and their lengthy conversations. The soul of this cinematic gem lies in the dialogues. Though the film is shot in breathtaking backdrops, that every viewer would wow its picturesque beauty, the placement of the camera and the movement of the same tell you loud and clear the director is not so interested in the backdrop but his focus clings on to his characters.

Mr.Aydin seems much of a self-proclaimed philosopher who believes, his opinions are the most perfect and this creates intense friction among the relationships he holds, almost with everyone else.

Turkish auteur Nure Bilge Ceylan

Turkish auteur Nure Bilge Ceylan

Never had I imagined that mundane conversations between the characters would be capacious enough to elicit a curiosity to this level, among the viewer.  Among the film-making lads where the usual outlook is to talk through the frames and images rather than verbal exchanges, Ceylan takes the road less traveled by his contemporaries. The beauty is, he loads his film almost entirely of conversations, abandons music deliberately almost throughout, yet manages to bring cinema rather than settling with something skin to a staged drama .In my view, this makes this work exceptional. The way he builds up the shades of his characters though their articulations – sharing their PoVs, opinions, ideologies, logic- is beautiful.

It’s a rare cinematic experience for a viewer to follow the heated conversations, slowly building up between the characters- especially the one between Aydin and Necla and the other between Aydin and Nihal, later in the film- with at most curiosity. The arguments are so influential that they make the viewer to shift sides from time to time. The audience becoming the part of the conversations outside the frame would sure be an unprecedented experience.

No character is defined in black and white, and we are shown their various shades of gray, through their verbal expressions. This makes the characters more realistic and less fictional. The movie is said to be inspired from a couple of Anton Chekov’s short stories. True to the treatment of this master, Ceylan too seems to employ the ‘Chekovian’ style in sketching his characters. The final monologue we hear as a ‘mind voice’ of Mr. Aydin turns out to be enigmatically poetic elevating the ‘drama’ of the film to new heights.

Watch it with patience and you’ll be duly rewarded.

(Readers could find the detailed review for ‘Winter Sleep’, written by Arun Kumar in his blog)