I think it was at the point in Winter Sleep when our leading character sits down with his wife and they engage in a 15-minute long back-and-forth conversation that I finally clicked with the film. It was engaging before this point, but it had nothing particularly special about it. But at this point in the film, roughly halfway through, I finally “got” it. Its talking points finally made sense, its deliberately slow style became more effective, and I was completely and utterly hooked. Before, it was a “take it or leave it” proposition; after, I couldn’t look away.
The film is about a man named Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), a former actor and current writer and owner of a remote hotel in the mountains of Turkey. He inherited the hotel. He likes to think of himself much like a king, with his tenants as his subjects. He’s not exactly a terrible person — an early scene has him try to convince his debt collector that people not paying rent right away isn’t the worst thing in the world — but he’s also not the greatest, either. Like most great films, he’s complex.
Living with him in his “castle” are his sister, Necla (Demet Akbag), and his much younger wife, Nihal (Melisa Sözen). The film deals with the tension between the three of them, and in particular that between Aydin and his wife. Most of the film consists of conversations, and it’s during these conversations that you learn everything you need to know, and more, about these characters. A good chunk of the film will make you think. It’s a challenging watch.
It’s not just difficult to sit through because it constantly has you think, though. It’s also a film that runs for over three hours. That’s a long time for any film, but in particular it’s long for one that basically is just people talking to one another, sometimes about nothing much in particular. I mean, the conversations are interesting, and either present you with things to think about in your own life, or about these characters, but that’s still a lot of talking for three hours of movie.
Winter Sleep is captivating and spellbinding. Once it hits you, you’re hooked. It might take a while for this to happen — to truly get what it’s going for — but after you reach that point, there’s no escaping its grasp. You’ll begin to care about what these characters are thinking and going through, you’ll be so engaged by the dialogue that you won’t even notice that this is basically all the film has to offer, and it won’t matter that the film runs just over three hours; you won’t notice the time passing by anyway.
The most shocking thing, I think, about Winter Sleep, is that it’s also got a rather dark sense of humor, so if you laugh at dark comedy, you’re likely going to be laughing at a good chunk of the film. If you don’t, but you still get emotionally involved, you might find yourself shaking your head and having a couple of tears trickle down. (This happened to the woman in front of me at the screening.) It can affect people various ways, and really depends on what you focus on. Are you here for the examination of the rich versus the poor? Or the various collapsing relationships? Or more philosophical topics? Winter Sleep has a lot for everyone.
It also offers tremendous acting. Haluk Bilginer is a tremendous lead, both articulate enough to works as a writer and dramatic enough to be a former actor — and crazy enough to, well, be Mr. Aydin — he is constantly compelling. Melisa Sözen is the more emotional of the two, at least for most of the film, even though she’s not in the first half that much. Demet Akbag is here essentially to participate in that conversation I mentioned earlier on, and she’s wonderful in a more background role.
Winter Sleep is the type of journey that’s difficult to start, that you want to turn back early on, but after you reach the halfway point, you realize just how much you’re enjoying it. It’s a tough film to get into and an even tougher one to watch, but once it clicks with you, it’s impossible to step away from. Its topics of conversation are so interesting, and its acting is so good. This is a heck of a film.