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Giant Steppes

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Mongrel Media

MOVIE REVIEW
Winter Sleep (2014)

"Winter Sleep" crosses the tape at 196 minutes; long enough to watch all of "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" and then revisit the first quarter of it all over again. Whether Nuri Bilge Ceylan's recent running times are an indulgence, a tactic or a mistake — he himself says that he pays the matter no mind at all — it again allows him to divide a film into formidably gorgeous tectonic plates of narrative, grinding against each other at geological pace while the men and women traveling on them completely fail to understand each other.

The nexus of discontent is Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), 60ish proprietor of the Hotel Othello in the Anatolian steppes. His much younger spouse, Nihal (Melisa Sözen), wants to be less of a trophy wife and become active in local society; his sister Necla (Demet Akbag) needles him about his attempts to write a provocative political blog, while stewing in her own past marital difficulties. Aydin also happens to be landlord to several increasingly malcontent tenants, among them Hamdi (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç), a local imam. Tensions in all these departments are escalating remorselessly — if escalating is the word here.

Unlike "Anatolia" — which for some of us remained stubbornly pinned to its board like a butterfly — "Winter Sleep's" copious dialogue and extended discussions of matters worldly and spiritual actually yield results; but that result is studied ambiguity. Aydin strikes a dignified, conciliatory figure at first, so it comes as a surprise to discover that one character after another is stewing with resentments. (The acting is uniformly terrific, with added spice for anyone remembering Mr. Bilginer from the BBC's "EastEnders" soap a lifetime ago.) Class and money are clearly at the root of things, although beyond that the audience is free to sit and ponder.

Perhaps Aydin's wealth and moneymaking instincts have inevitably worked their caustic damage; but Mr. Ceylan's critique of capitalism is ultimately equivocal. Necla's fumbling philosophy of not resisting evil as a way to spark remorse in the evildoer seems well worth a skeptical rejoinder — tough to blame Aydin for providing one. And while his subtle bullying of his wife is a clear-cut crime, her response is misguided enough that Mr. Ceylan might be content for her to seem a passive naïf.

With Mr. Ceylan, you pays your money. A low rumble of marital discord mixed with Mr. Ceylan's admiration for Anton Chekhov can combine into something close to legitimate artistic inquiry; but an audience may conclude instead that Mr. Ceylan's handling of female characters remains problematically off-key no matter how painterly the visuals. Or, after 196 minutes, it might equally decide to put a pin in that idea for later.

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