Monday, May 25, 2015

Winter Sleep

We watch many films in the course of evening entertainment. Most of them are so unmemorable that I don't bother to write about them. Yesterday we finished the very long Winter Sleep, which is a Turkish film directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It has much to its credit, so I'll say something about it.

The film is set in Cappadocia and is based on the short story "The Wife" by Anton Chekhov. Its main feature is strong character depiction with exploration of complex interpersonal relationships, but the cinematography is also excellent and displays some of the natural beauty of this area in central Anatolia. The protagonist, Aydin, is a retired actor from a wealthy family who owns a hotel. He entertains himself by writing articles for a local newspaper and is working on a history of the Turkish theater. His attractive wife, Nihal, is much younger. His sister, Necla, who was recently divorced, also lives with them.

The drama centers around Aydin's family, with internal conflicts brought out by an incident with one of Aydin's tenants on a separate property. It becomes apparent that Aydin thinks like an elite patriarch and takes little interest in the concerns of those around him. He often assumes that he knows what's right and avoids direct interaction. Most of his dirty work is done for him by his assistant, Hidayet, without his involvement. Necla initially compliments him on his journalistic efforts but later berates him as self-absorbed and condescending. Nihal, we learn, is highly idealistic and deeply wishes to help the unfortunate in the community. Aydin is indifferent to Nihal's charity work and skeptical of her group, and this adds a tension to their relationship. Finally Aydin attempts to make amends with Nihal by giving her a large cash contribution for the charity. Nihal misjudges Aydin's aggrieved tenant, Ismail, and secretly gives him the entire contribution in person, only to enrage him: he proceeds to burn the bills in front of her.

All three of the family members have weaknesses that emerge during the story. I think American viewers may tend to typecast Aydin as the bad guy, but the others have equally serious deficiencies. While Aydin is aloof and patronizing, Necla is unduly sharp-tongued and inconsistent in her positions. Nihal, though well-intentioned, is obviously naive about the world. The film, I thought, only touched on the problematic marriage of Nihal and Aydin, but a short story would not have offered enough space for further development. Overall it seemed balanced and evenhanded and did not seem to take sides with any of the characters.

One of the reasons why I like the film is that it contains dialogue that reminds me of my family. People speak up and don't hold back: my mother did that as do my sisters to a lesser degree. When I recall this, I feel as if Americans live in an emotionally stunted world and hardly know how to communicate at all. There is a downside to such expressiveness, because it can be destructive, illogical and pointless, yet without it people sometimes seem dead. When people never express their thoughts, they are at risk of becoming disconnected from the world. Culturally speaking, certainly this affects what a country has to offer in the arts. To my way of thinking, both England and the U.S. display a notable lack of emotional range in their arts, and this is one of the factors behind my theme about the inferiority of American fiction. Growing up here, I didn't find much to like in literature until I came across the Russians. Lacking a suitable cultural basis in their environment, American writers may be doomed to careers in which they are applauded for churning out puerile prattle. It is telling that Winter Sleep won the Palme d'Or in Cannes yet was not nominated for an Academy Award despite clearly being one of the best films released in 2014.

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