Published Apr 07, 2015Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan makes movies about human communication and conflict. His characters talk a lot but rarely say anything of substance. They also rarely, if ever, listen to each other. Like real people, they're prisoners of their own beliefs and defences; they're dilettantes, idealists, moralists and cynics. They're entirely damaged and certain of a reality that's skewed to reassure their own ego construct, unwilling to confront the existential void of an objective stance.
And unlike someone like Jessica Hausner, whose psychology background leads her to experiment with audience perception while exposing these same sensibilities — Amour Fou is a hilariously exaggerated experiment in applied solipsism — Ceylan is keen to ground these observations in reality. He's looking to find some truth in conflict by presenting the symptoms and digging around to find the root cause.
Winter Sleep starts out with an act of aggression. As Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) and his assistant, Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan), are driving, a child throws a rock and breaks their passenger window. In taking the child home to his father, Hamdi (Serhat Mustafa Kilic), they realize that Hamdi is indebted to Aydin — he's an affluent former theatre actor that owns most of the small Anatolian village, Cappadochia, in which Winter Sleep is set — and is having his belongings repossessed as a result. While Hamdi is apologetic and vaguely sycophantic, his brother, Ismail (Nejat Isler), an ex-con, is a tad more mercurial.
What's evident is the group's collective short-sightedness and inability to handle things constructively. Aydin claims ignorance, having no real grasp on how Hidayet is operating his business, while Hidayet adheres to the ideology of his basic business function. Hamdi's desperate to make his woeful disposition clear and Ismail is content to use aggression to communicate his stance. No one listens; they all escalate their own position until everything blows up.
Though this contemplative drama runs at three-plus hours, very little actually happens. Once the conflict is established, Aydin's superficial life is gradually unearthed through a series of protracted, but highly realistic and compelling, conversations. His younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen) defines her identity through philanthropy; when asked by Aydin if he should give one of his readers (he writes for a local, provincial paper) some money to build a better school, Nihal scoffs and points out the many "better" charities he could be giving money to. Though she's clearly in the relationship for the creature comforts, she's subverting it by finding a way to be superior to her husband, to be better. And while the pair talk a lot and argue about the political dangers of her work and the different perspectives on the subject, they merely exhaust themselves defending their stance and throwing out petty insults when it proves fruitless.
This is consistent with the dialogue between Aydin and his sister Necla (Demet Akbag) — one of the more educated characters in the film — when he looks to her for validation about his writing. She points out that his work is incidental; there's no ire. According to her, he's merely reiterating the status quo with generic platitudes and discussing subjects he has no expertise in. This touches on another theme present throughout Winter Sleep, which is affectation and posing; often, discussions are derailed by the inherent phoniness of what people are saying. Problems arise when people try to step outside of their knowledge base or comfort zone to inject an ill-informed opinion into the dialogue. This is clearly a pointed observation, as the topic of blogs and the dangers of dilettantes polluting the dialogue with ignorance is discussed, touching on the bigger-picture issues of society outside of Cappadochia.
While there are few resolutions to a film that mostly posits basic human folly, there are some wise observations about being humble and sticking to what we know. That such a monologue-based movie is as dynamic and engaging as it is merely reiterates how much truth and wisdom exists in between the lines of everything spoken. It also doesn't hurt that the picturesque cinematography of the snowy landscape steps in on occasion to allow the audience to contemplate what they're seeing and hearing. Winter Sleep is an achievement that strips down the many symptoms of conflict and encapsulates just what is wrong with how we approach the shared experience.