10 years in the making

winter sleep

Is Aydin ‘selfish, spiteful and cynical’, or ‘honest, fair and conscientious’? You can argue over this, and a lot of time was spent afterwards in the Arthouse cafe doing just that, but what you can’t disagree about is that Nuri Bilge Ceylan has made a beautiful, gripping and involving film.
As winter descends on Anatolia, amid snow swept landscapes and cave houses cut into strange rock formations, a romantic hotel is the claustrophobic setting for domestic sniping between Aydin, his younger wife, Nihal, and his recently divorced sister, Necla. Aydin, the wealthy hotel owner and former actor, is a man puffed up by self-righteousness who sucks the oxygen from the air and ‘withers the souls’ of the women he lives with. He believes himself a principled and enlightened intellectual, but the cheap humiliations he inflicts on his wife are little different from the attitudes he despises in the uneducated, and he lets his hotel manager do the dirty work when it comes to dealing with tenants who can’t pay their rent.
You laugh at him trying to jostle himself into a position of philosophical superiority in a discussion about freedom with a biker guest, and struggling to rise above the stinging home truths from his sister. The suffocating boredom seems to stir up absurd pontifications in all the main characters. But Aydin’s conversations with his wife, spoken through a fixed and condescending smile and disguised as sympathetic concern expose an unbearable and controlling sexism. The series of discussions with the women about charity, poverty, crime, freedom and pride are entertaining, not so much for the content of the discussions, but for the contempt and spite that seep through the words.
You probably have to be brave to make a film like this, not just because of it length (over three hours) but also because it’s driven by dialogue rather than action. It’s not without its drama though, and critics have seen Chekhov and Shakespeare’s Lear in its almost theatrical staging. The cinematography is stunning, from the beautiful interiors to the other-worldly landscapes of Anatolia. Haluk Bilginer as Aydin, Melisa Sözen as Nihal and Demet Akbag as Necla give totally convincing performances, and when Aydin talks about his wife at the end of the film, you are left wondering whether this is a genuine conversion, or whether he’ll still be using his lofty principles to suffocate those around him.