Ghostly beauty and fine performances fail to allay creeping boredom. Bloated.
Turkish writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is not a man to be hurried, with his previous, and finest, offering, Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, weighing in at two hours and 40 minutes. His latest, Winter Sleep, the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes lands at a bum-aching three hours and twenty minutes.
Garlanded with the and lauded almost universally by critics, I went in with a certain degree of expectation that my qualms about this inordinate run time would be dispelled by a master at work, so is it justified?
Dispensing with the barest of police procedural bones upon which his grandly meandering musings on human relations were hung in Anatolia, there’s scant evidence of any real plot here. Set in a rustic hotel hewn out of the surreal rocks of the Cappadocia steppes, Winter Sleep is inarguably beautiful in an ethereally alien way. Haluk Bilginer plays Othello Hotel owner and sometime actor Aydin, married to much younger and quite beautiful wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen), who harbours a deep frustration with her cocooned life of wealth and inactivity. Faithful dogsbody Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan) sees to Aydin’s every command, but his officious vanity is pulled into sharp relief by his somewhat caustically honest sister, divorcee Necla (Demet Akbag). She particularly revels in critiquing his pointlessly insulting musings in the local rag.
The bubble of this fractured but comfortably ensconced family is encroached upon by that of a much poorer one, Aydin’s inherited tenants, led by local Imam Hamdi (Serhat Kilic). They eke out a scant existence in the village far below, but this is threatened when their young son chucks a great big rock at Haydin’s car, in an early hint of violence that fails to play out.
All of the performances are subtly observed and quite wonderfully so, with a great deal of nuance relating to how we pretence ourselves to the world and the differences in how we are perceived, but the conflicts that bubble between them are played out in interminably long stretches of dialogue slip round in circle. This soon moves from fascinating to a sort of lolling mesmerism and then, finally, outright boredom.
If it is your idea of high art to watch a variety of people nag at each other for more than three hours, then sure, this is certainly the best that Cannes had to offer this year. I, however, am less convinced. Not without merit, particularly the lustrous cinematography of Gökhan Tiryaki, and the sharp shooting of Akbag’s Necla, Winter Sleep ultimately felt an indulgent and arduous chore.
Stephen A Russell