Haluk Bilginer plays a bitter hotel owner.
It is off-season at a tourist hotel in a remote region of Turkey. Spring will come, bringing tourists and the distraction of work. For now, the couple who run the place have each other. It is not quite nothing, but it's close enough.
Based on Anton Chekhov's short story "The Wife," Winter Sleep follows Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), a faded actor turned hotelier and landlord. When the son of one of his tenants throws a rock at him, we come to realize he is not a benevolent lord but rather a petty tyrant whose bitterness causes him to grind down the spirit of anyone who dares question him.
In Aydin's mind, he is without flaws and never needs to apologize for his cruelties. He didn't beat up that tenant; it was the collections agents he hired. He didn't destroy his young wife's attempts at running a charity; he's preventing her from embarrassing herself. He didn't ignore anyone; they just caught him at moments when he wasn't listening.
Ingmar Bergman's shadow looms over Winter Sleep. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan presents many of the same themes as the Swedish master: a family isolated from the world and each other, silence, philosophy, self-doubt, winter. The empty hotel and the marital discord make the film feel a bit like if Bergman had made The Shining — but the failed artist's weapon would not be an ax, but his endless tirades.
The difference is that Bergman would have told the same story in half the time. Winter Sleep has a running time of 196 minutes, which becomes frustrating well before the halfway point. Movies should not be afraid to include philosophical debate — and this movie has plenty — but these debates should be supported by actions. It is not until hour three that the philosophies are put into action, and that's a long time to wait.
The effect of these long discussions is that the audience experiences what it is like to live with Aydin. Bilginer delivers a fascinating performance, as does Melissa Sözen, who plays his wife, Nahil, a person conditioned by her husband to think that every move is the wrong move.
Ceylan's shots of the Turkish badlands are enough to drive anyone to consider a trip to that remote corner of the world. His choice of the hotel's setting amid the ancient cave dwellings of Cappadocia emphasize that despite his intellect, Aydin is just a modern cave man who cannot express his love to the woman he once dragged home.
UW Cinematheque's Premiere Showcase gives us the opportunity to see new movies that have no other venue in the Madison area, and it's free. This is your one chance to see Winter Sleep, the winner of last year's Palme d'Or, on the big screen.