Winter Sleep , Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s epic and yet personally intimate story of a wealthy self-absorbed Anatolian hotelier and landowner and his uneasy relationships with those around him. Is he evil? Is the power of evil best resisted by giving in to it?
This is Nuir Bilge Ceylan’s first Palme d’Or but he has received the Grand Prix twice already: once for Distant (2002) and again for 2011 for Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. He also won for the Director Award in 2008 for Three Monkeys. It also won the FIPRESCI prize.
Winter Sleep is also the second film by a Turkish director to win the Palm, after Yilmaz Guney and Serif Goren’s The Way in1982. When Ceylan received the award, he noted that 2014 was the 100th anniversary of Turkish cinema. “This is a great surprise for me,” Ceylan said, “I want to dedicate the prize to all the young people of Turkey, including those who lost their lives over the past year.”
Winter Sleep is being sold internationally by Memento who will also release it in France. Ama acquired Greek rights before Cannes. New Wave acquired U.K. rights in Cannes. Stadkino has rights for Austria, Film Point has Poland. Memento coproduced the film with the director's company NBC Film in collaboration with Turkey's Zeynofilm, Germany's Bredok Film Production. Eurimages backed the film with 450,000 € of the total 3.6 million € allocated to 13 film productions announced in March 13. (Parenthetically, seven of the Eurimages backed productions had French participation and five German were co-productions. One Lucy in the Star by Giuseppe Petitto an Italian, Swiss and Austria co-production received 130,000 € and All my Children by Ladislav Kabos from Slovakia and Czech Republic received 30,000 €.)
The opening scene of stunning and surrealistic landscape of Cappadocia, Anatolia immediately establishes this story as exotic and yet familiar. The actor, Haluk Bilginer, seems to be a familiar type – and in fact, his character is that of a former actor who has turned hotelier and landowner; he is attractive in an actor sort of way and seems always somehow distracted while maintaining a hawk’s eye on the household and area he appears to rule in an almost feudal style. The household he enters and its inhabitants fall into place like pieces of a puzzle one did not realize was, in fact, a puzzle, with the housekeeper, the sister and the young wife slowly taking on a shape within a larger context in this beautiful and ancient city built in the rocks like caves, with a primitively frightening side, personified by the impecunious family living on the property of the landlord. A modern and affable meeting of concerned citizens of the town establishes his relationship with his wife who lives an uneasy truce until he makes one final effort at destabilizing her hard-won independence of mind.
The 3-½ hours of the film pass without ever loosing the audience interest as the unfolds about the relationship among the townspeople and the landowning man who in fact is a tyrant until he is forced to see his own powerlessness. The philosophic underpinnings, discussed in several intimate conversations, about the best way to resist evil, about wealth and the power it bestows and the resentment it engenders finds a quiet resolution, which arrives unexpectedly along with the end of the story.
Whether this film will find a home in the U.S. whose audiences and movie theaters are so impatient is questionable. At the least, it should show at New York’s Film Forum, at L.A.’s UCLA Film Program or at the American Cinematheque and certainly it will play in the top film festivals forever. It is the sort of classic movie cinephiles will love, along the line of Tarkovsky or Angelopoulos. It is the sort of movie one wishes to see, to fully immerse oneself in an experience only available in a certain type of movie or after reading a deeply immersive novel of Proust, Tolstoy or Marquez.
One wonders at the movie’s end if one is about to settle into a long winter sleep or if, in fact, one is emerging from such a sleep in which one dreamt of the previous autumn. And does Winter Sleep solve the problem of evil? In a silent and enigmatic way, it says that the power of money and of tyranny, in the face of resistance by one whose soul is not to be conquered is null.