Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan
WINTER SLEEP (Kis uykusu) B
Turkey (196 mi) 2014 ‘Scope d: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Turkey (196 mi) 2014 ‘Scope d: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The film that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the most prestigious award in all of cinema, and it doesn’t come without controversy. In fact, because of the vehement discussions generated afterwards and the various problems people have with the film, it plays into its role as generating interest and enthusiastic film discussion, certainly one of the goals any filmmaker could have before releasing a film. Most likely the worldwide audience will think the pros outweigh the cons, but this is an exhausting experience, and not altogether for good reasons. Filmmakers can always rationalize excessive length in films, finding some artistic basis, but the truth is this doesn’t need to be well over three hours and the length is only part of the problem. This is largely a writer’s film, as every word is about the author writing the words, which he transfers into a story taking place onscreen, where the majority of the film is spent in arguments and personal criticism, but there is little doubt that the subject is the author himself. Because of the overall length of the film, this plays out as a summation of his entire film career, like an opus work, one that is meant to immortalize the author/creator. In CLIMATES (2006), the director places himself in front of the camera and stars with is real life wife Ebu Ceylan, where the male character couldn’t be more self-absorbed and selfish, resorting to psychological harassment and sexual abuse, where he comes across as a domineering creep. While it takes guts to expose oneself like that in front of the camera, this seems to have been the preliminary lead-in to this larger, more extended work, focusing on one man’s overcontrolling demeanor that chokes and suffocates the life out of his marriage, where initially he comes across as cultured, well-mannered and sympathetic, but over time we lose patience with him, as do all the other characters in the film, because the only person he really cares about is himself, where the world must revolve around him, and he always has to get his way, continually bullying those around him until he gets it, where he nags and picks at every little thing to undermine and discredit others while remaining totally immune to his own faults. He is the perfect example of a seemingly innocent male misogynist whose chief overriding flaw is emotional and psychological abuse, who hides behind his occasional moments of kindness and genuine concern with philosophical posturing while remaining clueless and blind to the other times where he simply doesn’t give a damn about others, as he tramples over their fragile emotions with the subtlety of a steamroller.
Because this film dwells so completely on the director himself, where the film is a choreography of disagreements and arguments, filled with lacerating criticisms targeted at the overly bossy husband that have likely been leveled at Ceylan, co-written by his wife who certainly offers authentic critiques of her own, it comes across as self-indulgent and egotistic, where the length only aggravates this obsessional need to dwell on himself. Viewed in this manner, this is not a very good film, as the narrow focus is equally suffocating for the viewers in the audience, most of it expressed with the lecturing tone of superiority. Thankfully, Ceylan’s greatest strength is shooting outdoor landscape shots in Turkey that are breathtakingly beautiful, taking us to historical sites of natural splendor in CLIMATES, virtually unknown rural geographical beauty in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), where this film, shot by Gökhan Tiryaki in Cappadocia and Nevşehir in Central Anatolia, may be the most astonishingly beautiful natural locations of all. Unfortunately, only about 20% of the film is shot outdoors, while the rest takes place in the claustrophobic confinement of their home, where Mr. Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), an extremely wealthy former actor now runs a small hotel in one of the more unusually impressive locations on earth, where the building itself feels like a cave dwelling built into the natural rock formations of the region. Aydin lives with his much younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) and recently divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag). Initially the story concerns the turbulent relationship with various men in the region where Mr. Aydin inherited wealth from his deceased father, including the role of landlord, inheriting tenants who are not in a position at the moment to make their rent payments, as the drunken older brother in the home, Ismail (Nejat Isler), was recently imprisoned for six months and no one afterwards will hire him. Aydin’s hotel clerk and driver, Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan), nearly comes to blows with Ismail after his young son throws a rock breaking the truck window of Aydin’s vehicle, apparently mad that he’s possessed many of the household items like furniture and the television in exchange for rent. Ismail’s brother Hamdi (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç) is an imam that tries to teach his brother’s son to apologize, but this obviously causes great humiliation, especially when the dirt poor family has to walk miles across a muddy landscape to seek the pleasure of the master of the house (Aydin), who on some occasions arrogantly refuses to see them at all.
“A king in his own little kingdom,” as he calls it, Mr. Aydin is an imperious man full of mockery and scorn for others with different moral values than his own. Behind the scenes, he writes an Internet column that serves as a platform that allows him to become a moral voice for the region, often expressing religious views, though he never sets foot in a mosque, but that doesn’t stop him from preaching about the behavior of others, often criticizing their lack of ethical conduct. While Aydin sits at his desk, his sister Necla often stretches out on the couch behind him, like a back seat driver, where she also has a way of expressing her own contempt for the hypocrisy of these columns, wondering who her brother thinks he is that he can become a moral spokesperson when he doesn’t know the first thing about religion or the affairs of impoverished people. This, of course, leads to long, drawn out discussions that begin politely enough but slowly turn into more pointed attacks on each other’s character, eventually feeling like all-out personal assaults. Initially the audience may sympathize with Aydin, as there’s been little evidence onscreen to support such sharp attacks, but by the end of the film we feel Necla never went far enough, as his shifty character, especially the way he manhandles and mistreats his wife, is far worse than imagined. Nihal is seen as one of the few with a moral conscience, mostly unseen initially, where we hear from others that she spends her time working with various charities. Her husband seems to support these activities, proud of her honorable intentions, but grows suspicious when they start to have clandestine meetings at his house without his knowledge. When he awkwardly sits down to see for himself what’s going on, Nihal takes him aside and politely asks him to leave. Aydin, however, is outraged that she’s intentionally concealing her work from him, suspecting something is going on under his roof. Aydin won’t leave this issue alone, but begins a series of patronizing discussions about his wife’s naiveté, claiming she doesn’t know the first thing about running a business, that he wants to protect her from being discredited and taken advantage of by others, but what he’s really doing is stepping on the one thing that truly belongs to her, that provides her sole source of independence and freedom, yet he begins a series of arguments where he literally squashes what’s left of her pride. Despite her tears and protestations and her obvious discomfort, Aydin continues his domineering practices where he literally must have his way at all costs, no matter the consequences, which the viewer can see is having devastating consequences, but Aydin refuses to relent, insisting he is right, where he is literally full of himself and his holier-than-thou self-righteousness. Nihal grows tired of being bullied in this monstrous fashion, where her husband couldn’t be more condescending, displaying a kind of male arrogance that isn’t just hurtful, but is mean and suffocating, draining every last ounce of energy just to put up with it. While the film is an extended character study of overbearing male behavior wrapped in the erudite politeness of social class, supposedly adapting ideas from Chekhov, it’s really an ugly exposé of human contempt and maliciousness, a punishing existential journey where “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” By the end, however, growing ever more tedious and monotonous, the audience may feel more imprisoned than enlightened.