*This review was originally published on Movie Mezzanine.
“I’ve never had a spare second to be bored,” exclaims Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), the protagonist of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s dauntingly titled, 197-minute long Palme d’Or winner, Winter Sleep. It’s a sentiment mirroring what one feels about the gargantuan and wordy film, which breezes through its running time without a sluggish moment. The Turkish master’s lush and absorbing latest work is complex and has no easy resolutions, but its multifaceted study of the Turkish society through the prism of its protagonist is richly rewarding.
Aydin is a former actor and current owner of a hotel compound and several other properties on the Anatolian steppe – Ceylan thus returns to the same geographic turf as his last film, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Aydin passes his days by writing think pieces for a local publication, while his right-hand man, Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan), takes care of the business side of things: collecting rents, running the hotel’s errands, and occasionally roughing up anyone whose payments are running behind schedule. Two women live with Aydin: his divorced sister, Necla (Demet Akbag), and his much younger wife, Nihal (Melisa Sӧzen). Aydin doesn’t spare either of them any of his holier-than-thou, snobby attitude, projecting onto the former his own insecurities and categorically accusing the latter of not knowing the ways of life and condescending to her regarding her financial affairs.
Having mostly locked himself up within the confines of his estate but for semi-regular visits from a friend, Aydin seems so closed off from the rest of the world that his ideas border on delusion. He’s an intellectual whose insistence on devoting an article to the shabbiness of the local imam suggests something about his character, especially as it is juxtaposed to the dire living conditions of his tenants in the nearby neighborhoods. Class division is a major theme of the film, and one that, unlike everything else being argued and philosophized by Aydin and his entourage, is more subtly suggested in the events on screen. Not that Aydin’s disdain for everyone beneath him is concealed at all, even when he’s alone in his study room.