There’s a small hotel
Winter Sleep, drama, not rated, in Turkish and English with subtitles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles Winter Sleep is a quiet but striking character study in which the weight of rather mundane events that unfold over the course of the film bear heavily on its protagonists, in part because there’s not much else going on. This is not so much a criticism as an acknowledgment that this slow-moving and well-acted drama offers a thoughtful exploration into superficiality. The setting is the hotel Othello, located in the mountainous region of central Anatolia. There, Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), an aging former actor, is the proprietor. He lives at the Othello with his young wife, Nihal (Melisa Sözen), and his recently divorced sister, Necla (Demet Akbag). Aydin rents out property in the nearby village. When winter comes, and the three are snowed in, they fill their evenings with long conversations about such topics as the nature of evil and whether it’s better to resist or submit to it — a theme that runs through the film. Animosity among the small crew’s members grows as the winter days stretch on.
This latest film from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, known for Once Upon a Time In Anatolia (2011), won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Early on in Winter Sleep, a young child throws a rock through the window of Aydin’s car. This leads to an uncomfortable confrontation with the boy’s father, Ismail (Nejat Isler), a tenant facing eviction because of unpaid rent. What Aydin, in his self-absorption, doesn’t really get is that most of the villagers, including his wife, do not particularly like him. Nihal makes a diplomatic effort to get him to understand this. She reminds him that he’s a conscientiousness, honest, and well-educated man, but that he uses these virtues to suffocate others. Holed up in his rooms, aspiring to write a book on Turkish theater, Aydin doesn’t see that winter is a profoundly more immediate and visceral time for the villagers he looks down upon from his mountaintop perch. When the local imam, Hamdi (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç), inadvertently annoys him by intervening in the glass-breaking incident, Aydin responds by writing a column in the local paper about the role an imam should play. Aydin’s act serves only to distance him even more from his community. Meanwhile, Nihal’s attempts to organize a fundraising event to help develop schools in the region are criticized by her husband, who considers her inexperienced and naive. When Ismail’s son contracts pneumonia, the direct result of being chased into the water by Aydin’s assistant early in the film, Nihal attempts to set things right with the poor family. But Aydin’s shadow falls long, even on his young wife, who he purports (unconvincingly) to love, and things do not go as expected.
Winter Sleep is the kind of film in which the setting reflects the interior state of the protagonists: As the snows fall, their relations grow icier and icier, eventually erupting. We are left with a clear reminder that being king of the mountain can be a lonely thing indeed.
— Michael Abatemarco
Cold shoulder: frosty in Anatolia