Winter Sleep (2014)

This Palme d’Or winner from Turkey invites viewers on a contemplative journey through the complexities of relationships, morality, and self-discovery.

2/6/20244 min read

Haluk Bilginer and Demet Akbag in Winter Sleep
Haluk Bilginer and Demet Akbag in Winter Sleep

Turkish, 189 minutes, 2014

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Cast: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sozen, Demet Akbag, Ayberk Pekcan, Nejat Isler, Serhat Kilic, Tamer Levent

Awards: Winner, Palme d’Or and Winner FIPRESCI Prize, Cannes Film Festival, 2014; nominee, Best Foreign Film, Cesar Awards, 2015; Nominee, Audience Choice Award, Chicago International Film festival, 2014; Winner, Golden Anchor Award, Haifa International Film Festival, 2014; Winner, FIPRESCI Prize for Best Actor (Haluk Bilginer), and Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, Palm Springs International Film festival, 2015

Set in the historical and picturesque landscape of Cappadocia, the central region of Anatolia, the film revolves around Aydın (Haluk Bilginer), a former actor, who lives with his younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) and his recently divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag) in a remote mountain village. Aydin’s family lives in a hotel owned by him which also houses other guests from time to time. He also owns various other properties which are rented out to tenants. His business is looked after by his manager Hidayat (Ayberk Pekcan). The film focuses on Aydin’s encounters and relationships with people around him.

On a day when Aydin and his manager Hidayat are driving through the village, a boy throws a stone and breaks Aydin’s vehicle’s glass. The boy, Ilyas, turns out to be Ismail’s son, one of the tenants housed in Aydin’s properties. He had thrown the stone out of anger because a collection agency’s men had confiscated TV and refrigerator from their home as Ismail had not paid rent for past many months. Ismail is aggressive types and situation is rearing to go out of control when Hamdi arrives and manages to calm the matters. Hamdi (Serhat Kilic) is Ismail’s brother and works as Imam at the village mosque. Later during a conversation between Hamdi and Aydin we learn that Ismail is jobless because he had spent some time in prison and nobody wants to hire a convict. Thus the entire financial support is provided by Hamdi out of his salary as Imam.

Aydin is learned and well-read and hence writes column for a local newspaper. Later at home when he is writing, Necla wonders why he does not write for bigger and better read newspapers than a local one but Aydin says he is satisfied and prefers to be a king in his own kingdom than a commoner in bigger newspaper. Discussions in this film are often long and stretch to a point of acrimony. Yet the dialogues are sharp and delve deeper on psychological level. After meeing Hamdi, Aydin is prompted to write an article about how an Imam’s conduct should be and he discusses it with Necla. Necla says it is alright and asks him how Aydin would define “not resisting evil”. The discussion stretches over dining table with Nihal too pitching in. All disagree with each other.

Next day, Necla tells Nihal that she is thinking of going back to her ex-husband, Necdet, since he has become alcoholic after separation. Nihal disagrees and this kick starts another long debate at the end of which Nihal says it is “nonsense” but nobody would stop her from returning back and she alone would need to face the consequences. The reply irks Necla even further.

Nihal is involved in fundraising for repairing of dilapidated village schools and some prominent village folk are also with her, though her husband Aydin is not among them. She organizes a meeting of her group at home. But when Aydin says he wants to attend, she doesn’t allow him saying it is a private meeting and he was not interested earlier. After a charged argument, a visibly angry Aydin obliges. Later, after the meeting Aydin discusses bookkeeping and accounts with Nehal and wants to keep them in order so that no untoward transaction takes place and they end up on wrong side of law. This, however irritates Nehal to the extent that she thinks he doesn’t trust her and matters are propelled towards discussion about divorce. But we are spared that drama as Aydin lets her be and leaves. Before going to Istanbul supposedly, to her surprise, he donates a handsome amount to her fundraising cause. This donation leads to shocking outcome during climax which I am not going to reveal here.

The narrative is set during the cold winter months, mirroring the emotional chill that pervades Aydın's relationships. The characters are intricately developed, each grappling with their own internal conflicts and moral dilemmas. The frames in this film are beautifully composed and lit. The picturesque location of mountain hotel in Anatolia itself provides different and rich texture.

The conversations between characters often serve as a vehicle for exploring profound existential questions, making the film feel more like a mature philosophical discussion than a traditional narrative. Director Nuri and his script doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable or philosophical discussions and it fits beautifully into the script. Only grouse, it made the film more than three hours longer.

About the director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Born in January, 1959 in Bakirkoy, Istanbul, Turkey, Nuri is a director, screenwriter, actor and photographer. He finished his high school in Istanbul and started studying Chemistry in Istanbul technical University in 1976. However, due to constant political disturbances like boycotts, clashes between groups and polarization the two years went by without much of study. In 1978, he appeared in entrance exam again and this time chose to study Electrical Engineering at Bogazici University where the situation was better.

While in Bogazici University, his interest in Photography widened as he joined the university Photography club. He also got interested in Chess and mountaineering but the inclination towards the cinema blossomed when he took the elective course in Film studies with Ustun Barista. The film club’s special screenings and music archives at the university propelled him towards visual arts. His photographs were recognized and in 1982, he was featured among young Turkish Photographers in ‘Milliyet Sanat’, an arts and culture magazine. In 1989, he won a national competition to represent Turkey at an international Photography event organized by Kodak and took parts in shoots at London, UK and Kathmandu, Nepal. After returning to Turkey he joined 18 months of military service at Mamak, Ankara and after its completion enrolled into Mimar Sinan University to study films. However after two years le left the course mid-way.

In the year 1993, he then acted in a short film directed by his friend Mehmet Eryilmaz where he was involved from the beginning, helping him learn the entire filming process. After completion he bought the Arriflex 2B camera that was used in shooting of the film and proceeded to make his own short film. He began during the end of 1993 with expired raw stock and some stock he had brought from Russia. Incidentally, his first short film ‘Koza’ (Cocoon) became the first Turkish short film to be selected for competition at Cannes Film festival, 1995.