London Film Festival: Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Palme d'Or winning drama is an epic, enthralling story of a family falling apart
This masterful, achingly sad story of marital decay and societal rifts is the latest from Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan and the winner of this year's Palme d'Or. It finds a tightly wound, quietly angry family gradually unravelling in their mountain hotel. Years of simmering resentment comes seeping out as winter sets in, resulting in poignant and intelligent drama carefully spread over the course of 196 mesmerising minutes.
The film takes place in the troglodyte cliffs of Cappadocia, a spectacular, wholly unique environment, with its dwellings hollowed from the mountains. Our setting is the Hotel Othello, Haluk Bilginer our protagonist. Bilginer possesses the kind of craggy, faded handsomeness that befits his surroundings; it's as if he's carved from rock himself. He plays Aydin, a former stage actor and local newspaper columnist who, alongside his sister Necla (Demet Akbag), has inherited many of the nearby village's shops and residences. He comments, 'My kingdom may be small but at least I'm the king here'.
When the local imam (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç) finds himself behind with his rent Aydin's judgemental and disinterested response reveals the fractures between these self-installed aristocrats, in addition to their personal disappointments. It triggers criticism from his compassionate young wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) and from his bored, recently divorced sister who, amusingly, uses the incident as an opportunity to reveal her true feelings about Aydin's foray into journalism.
Winter Sleep is at its most potent during a series of embittered heart-to-hearts where it explores the gulf between our private and public personas, the strategies adopted by the rich to assuage guilt and dodge responsibilities, and shows how age and isolation can poison a personality. It's surprisingly loquacious bearing in mind what we've seen from Ceylan before; given the epic runtime, that should prove wearing but the dialogue is so rich and literary, the ideas so fascinating and the interactions so completely credible that his seventh film is never short of enthralling.
Showing on Sat 18 and Sun 19 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2014. Selected release from Fri 21 Nov.