Could sheer persistence explain the jury’s preference for this year’s Palme d’or winner Winter Sleep (Kis uykusu) from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan over Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria? Holed up for the cold winter months in the picturesque Cappadocian cave landscape, former actor and current hotel owner Aydin (Bilginer) writes a pompous blog but is really in the process of researching a definitive work on Turkish theatre. He prides himself on an enlightened, un-patriarchal attitude to his unhappy wife, his bored sister and various other dependents, but as he (and we) comes to realize, not many people around him buy into his delusions.
It’s the theatrical principle of lengthy dialogue and the way that language can both support and distort self-awareness that propels this film. Withdrawn in beautifully rendered mise-en-scène cave-rooms full of flickering shadows, Aydin indulges his self-aggrandizement by talking down his interlocutors. Like Plato’s philosopher, he discards illusion and delusion for a reality check only when he’s physically outside. His wife, on the other hand, and his sister achieve a measure of clarity through speech, creating an interesting contrast. All in all, however, three hours of dialogue, however cleverly scripted and thematically telling, is a long time. And ending with a very filmic off-screen confessional, which may or may not stand the test of (more) time, Ceylan seems, as indeed Plato did, to be expressing a distrust of theatrical procedures. Such a conclusion—validated by the ending but in denial over the film’s dialogue heavy content—achieves an interesting experimental tension but remains disappointingly inconclusive.
Winter Sleep | Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey, France, Germany 2014) with Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbag. Starts December 11
Originally published in issue #133, December 2014.