It is rare for me to like a film so much that I tell everyone I meet to see it. Happens about once a decade. This is that film. From Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Winter Sleep is over 3 hours long, and not a lot happens. And it's a masterpiece. Please see it.
What is it about this film that makes still thrilled and excited to have seen it in Toronto several weeks ago (it was the first film I saw at the festival, and set a benchmark that nothing else was ever going to meet)?
If I say that it reminds me of a great Bergman film, a Chekhov play or a George Eliot novel, that may or may not think that I am overstating the case, and it is true that claiming greatness for a film as soon as you have seen it is a little premature. But I am not alone in my high estimation of the film, and I am confident that once a wider audience sees it, then its status as a work of art is assured.
OK, enough with the hyperbole. Aydin is a good looking and successful man of about 60. His career as an actor is over, and now he is lord of all he surveys. He owns a hotel (called Othello) and a number of other properties in a remote part of Cappadocia, itself part of Anatolia (in Turkey, of course). He leaves the day to day running of his little empire to an agent, so that he can dabble in his writings about nothing in particular for an insignificant journal. He is satisfied. He has a beautiful younger wife, his sister lives with them, and everything in the garden is… clearly not so rosy.
A tenant in one of his properties is unhappy with his arrangements. Aydin's marriage is not what it appears; his sister pecks away at him. His self-confidence is more like complacency. His life is beginning to unravel, and reveal the hollow man inside.
Nothing new there, you may see – though of course, as we all know, there are no new stories anywhere. But what is so irresistibly powerful is the way in which this particular story unfolds, inch by inch, so that only gradually do we realise what we are witnessing; only over time do we see the worm inside the bud, and the illusions which have held Aydin together. It's not that he is an unsympathetic or even a bad person; far from it. He is simply someone who has always chosen to view life in a certain way which flatters his amour propre, and it is hard for him to allow any other versions of truth to emerge.
The acting is superb, the camerawork sublime, the script is eloquent and substantial, and the editing and directing are flawless. What's not to like? True, there are no car chases, no shoot outs, and no pratfalls or fart jokes. But if you can live without them, and allow an unfolding narrative about real people to take its time, like a great novel – then this is the film for you. And me.
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