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Review: 'Winter Sleep' is long but minor (in a good way)

This year's Palme d'Or winner is a chat-a-thon from Turkey that finds a master filmmaker working big but not deep.
winter sleep

Haluk Bilginer broods over harsh landscapes in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Palme d'Or winnAdopt Films

'Winter Sleep'
Director:
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Stars: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sozen
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

It can be uncouth to dwell on, and particularly to moan about, a movie’s super-length, as if you wouldn’t have wasted that time anyway. But the three and a quarter hours that comprise “Winter Sleep ” — the latest from Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and the longest film to ever win the top prize at Cannes — are there to be felt. It invites you to sit back, get comfy and devour a grand feast of a film, one that should leave you feeling full and, this being the maker of “Distant” and “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” happily depressed.

Granted, that has more to do with general heaviosity than the immensity of its content. It has the feel of a minor novel from a great author that’s still the size of a doorstop — a quasi-hubristic work of excess that nonetheless contains a myriad of riches. In a sense it’s a hangout movie, albeit one with another of 2014’s many deeply unpleasant semi-sociopaths. Aydin (stage actor Haluk Bilginer) is a former actor and now a hotelier of a remote hotspot that sits atop a picturesque mountain. (He placates his artistic side by writing newspaper columns.) It’s the snow season, which means he spends much of his time indoors — and much of those times getting into epic, on-simmer arguments with his brutally honest sister (Demet Akbag) and his younger, bitter wife (Melisa Sozen). They don’t get up and walk about, screaming at each other. They sit, cozy, in burnished, sleepy rooms, almost whispering to each other, even as they file oft-ugly, sometimes right-on accusations.

Much of “Winter Sleep” is endless talk — conversations that go on forever, with no end in sight, as they do in the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman, where you hang with endless, sometimes banal chatter until something jumps out at you. But Ceylan really wants us to stew in these interactions, to allow the complexities of the relationships and ideas to slowly reveal themselves. This is a renegade movie for an era when conversation is, as they say, dead. (Here’s another aspect of difficult movie watching one shouldn’t normally complain about: Having to actually read these conversations can, for those who don’t speak Turkish, make these scenes doubly laborious to get through.)

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There’s also a subplot that winds up largely ignored in “Winter Sleep”’s talky middle section. Aydin is also a landlord, and one of his tenants can’t pay up. This section features a phenomenally sinister turn from Nejat Isler as the tenant — a man so used to being trod upon that all of his anger has been redirected into a permanent, menacing scowl. He never raises his voice nor comes close to it, and his reaction to an at least somewhat condescending act of kindness from his wealthy overlords is at once foolish and nobly righteous. That this subplot feels rushed and almost half-assed — in something almost as long as “The Godfather Part II” — is definitely the funniest joke in a movie that happily isn’t allergic to them.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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