Monday, December 15, 2014

Full-bodied characters, brilliant/beautiful cinema from Turkey: Nuri Bilge Ceylan's WINTER SLEEP

I usually don't read reviews of films I'm about to cover, but in the case of WINTER SLEEP -- the new Palme d'Or-winning film from Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan -- once I finished reading Stuart Klawans' review in The Nation of The Imitation Game (a film I had already covered), I found myself continuing to read his thoughts on Ceylan's film. Why didn't I stop and put it aside to finish later? Well, Klawans is a very good writer, and once I'd begun, I didn't want to stop. So rapturous was his notice (you can read it here: click and keep scrolling down) that I immediately gave it to my spouse and asked if the film interested him. It did, despite its rather unusual length (three hours and 16 minutes: and spouse is not a fan of lengthy movies).

Although Mr. Klawans recommends seeing Winter Sleep in a theater, we were sent a DVD screener to watch. As shown on our large, widescreen TV, the quality was, in a word, sensational. Visually, this is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. While Ceylan's work (the filmmaker is shown at left) is often quite lovely to view, his latest outdoes any of his earlier films. From the incredible vistas that open the movie -- huge rocks sprouting from the mountain soil and homes that seem to emerge literally from the hills -- to the many interior shots, with lighting and color unlike anything I've seen, the movie is visual splendor. Still, visuals can only go so far. Incredibly, Mr. Ceylan also offers us a situation and characters as precise and special as those visuals, and then tops it all with some of the finest dialog -- also precise (in a manner that is able to gracefully unfurl character) and deep, sometimes profound -- that you're likely to hear in any film this year.

The movie is a wonder, a marvel. And while those three-plus hours don't exactly speed by, the material here -- characters and situation -- grabs us so strongly that we're not for a moment disengaged from this film. The situation blooms out of character, chiefly that of Aydin (Haluk Bilginer, below), our "hero," a wealthy man who owns the hotel that lies at the center of the film.

Around this cold sun circle the rest of the characters, including his young wife, Nihal (Melisa Sözen, shown below), and his sister, Necla (Demet Akbag, above, right). There is a scene midway in the movie between sister and brother that is one of the strongest (and longest) sections of dialog I think I've ever heard in a movie, unveiling character, philosophy, desire and fear, batting back and forth like a great tennis match of intellect and hubris that will have you on tenterhooks, trying to take it all in.

A subplot involving tenants of our wealthy fellow, a family quite down on its luck, further unveils the character of Aydin, as well as of the tenant family members themselves. A scene involving money changing hands toward the finale is one of the most quietly explosive and frustrating ever committed to film.

Ceylan's movie probes everything from class and religion to feminism, the male prerogative (in a culture such as Turkey's), and much more. There's even a reference to Hitler and the Jewish Holocaust that might tilt Turkish heads in the direction of their country's own Holocaust against Armenians, the responsibility for which -- unlike the Germans for their own, dreadful piece of history -- Turks have yet to accept. (I would like to think that Ceylan intends this "thought process," though being any more direct about it could probably end his career, at least in his home country.)

If I have given you any sense at all of how rich this movie is -- in so many ways -- then I'll consider this post a success. Winter Sleep has been selected by Turkey as its submission for Best Foreign Language Film. As crowded with quality as this year's selections surely are -- Force Majeure, The Circle, Ida, Rocks in My Pockets and Two Days, One Night (I'll cover that last one next week and haven't yet seen Beloved Sisters, Leviathan or Human Capital) to name but a few -- it strikes me at this point that Ceylan's film outshines all of what I have viewed.

Winter Sleep -- from Adopt Films and running 196 minutes -- opens this Friday, December 19, in New York City exclusively at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and in Los Angeles on January 23 at Laemmle's Royal, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5. To see all currently scheduled playdates, click here, and then scroll down and click on View Theaters and Showtimes.

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