CANNES: Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan says his film “Winter Sleep,” which deals with the huge divide between rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless in modern-day Turkey, is not based on current events. That said, it is meant to teach his country a lesson. Running a challenging three hours and 16 minutes, Ceylan’s feature has got some of the best reviews of any film shown so far at Cannes, with the French newspaper Le Monde calling it “magnificent.”
Though set on the vast Anatolian steppe, the atmosphere is almost claustrophobic in its depiction of a wealthy former actor named Aydin (Haluk Bilginer). A man obsessed with his own pride, Aydin uses his intellect and position to bully his tenants and beat his wife and sister into intellectual submission.
Ceylan said his portrayal of abuse of power was based on tales from Chekhov, and was not inspired by recent events in Istanbul, where people protested the planned development of Gezi Park into a mall.
“Of course Turkey is a country where there are many problems. ... Every day you come up with another big issue. The artist doesn’t suffer for want of subject matter,” Ceylan said Saturday, the day after the premiere.
“In this climate, some directors or writers like to deal directly with these problems and some of them deal with that indirectly. I personally don’t like very much to deal with the social matters but what I deal with are the inner worlds of the people.”
What he does hope is that this film – which is among the favorites tipped to win the Palme d’Or – will teach his countrymen a sense of shame and responsibility.
In Turkey, he said, “there is a lack of this, the culture of confession and also the potential of shame. ... For instance, in Japan if there’s a big accident the minister takes personal responsibility. I think as an artist I should develop these kinds of humanistic and individualistic [themes].”
Ceylan has made more than six feature films since 1997, and been lauded at Cannes for his films “Uzak,” “Climates,” “Three Monkeys” and “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.”
He recollected how he used to indulge his love of film as a young man when he worked as a waiter in London’s Brixton area. Waiting tables in the evening, he would go to a cinema near the Kings Cross railway station during the day.
“I don’t think it’s there now,” he said, “but I used to watch two or three films a day.”
Ceylan is perfectly aware that a film running more than three hours is not the cinematic norm. But “Winter Sleep” is full of so many references – to Shakespeare, to religion, to music, and to showing the evolving relationships among his characters – that he felt unable to shorten it.
“It was four-and-a-half hours at the beginning,” he said, “so I cut until this but I couldn’t cut it further because everything is connected to each other.”
Haunting passages from Schubert’s “Sonata in A Major,” performed here by pianist Alfred Brendel, recur throughout the movie. The wrier-director said these were not his first choice for the film, but that they fitted the way the film works.
“I didn’t want it, because it’s so famous,” he said.
“But it was suitable. Also the piece has many variations. ... There are many parts which are similar but still different. That was it.”