Winter Sleep is called Kiş Uykusu in Turkish which means something like hibernation. It is set in Kappadokya in the winter time. The landscape looked very familiar. We were there last year in the summer and stayed at a hotel built into the hillside with a similar feel to the one in the film (*). It is based on a couple of stories by Anton Chekov.

The protagonist is a former actor who has now retired to live in the centre of Anatolia. He has inherited the hotel from his father along with several properties in the village. He writes columns for the local paper which it is likely few read and plans to write a book about the history of theatre in Turkey. His name is Aydın, which means intellectual or enlightened person. He lives with his sister Necla, who has recently parted from her husband, and his much younger wife Nihal.

There are only a few guests remaining at the hotel this late in the season. When one guest notes that there are no horses at the hotel, although horses are featured on the website, Aydın is prompted to go to the horse catcher. A wild horse is lassoed by a stream, subdued and pulled from the water exhausted. Soon afterward the guest, who is travelling without a fixed itinerary by cross-country motorbike, departs unexpectedly and Aydın, perhaps in a moment of clarity, sets the horse free. It gallops away through the valley in the moonlight.

The first section of the film is largely concerned with a family that rents one of the properties. They are behind with the rent because the father has been in prison and his brother the imam is trying to support the whole family on his small salary. Shortly before, the window of Aydın’s Land Rover has been shattered by a rock thrown by a boy who turns out to be the son of the tenant. Aydın’s debt collectors have already been. Aydın fails to be engaged in the way that he should, revealing the casual indifference and self-absorption of someone who should here be involved but isn’t.

The film then becomes concerned with the relationship between Aydın and his recently separated sister and Aydın and his wife, a relationship now largely in hibernation. She is engaged in charitable work to support local disadvantaged children. There is a meeting of the volunteer group at their home. Aydın has no need to become involved and tact and insight would tell him not to intrude in his wife’s project but he does of course.

Having trampled over her project some self-awareness prompts him to propose to leave for Istanbul for the remainder of the winter. He goes to the railway station but fails to catch the train, instead visiting his friend to talk, to drink and the next day to shoot rabbits. He returns home, having decided that, even if she no longer cares for him, he still wants to be there with her. Meanwhile his wife has taken the large sum he had given to her for her charitable efforts and tries to give it to the tenant family but is painfully rebuffed.

The film is relatively long at around 190 minutes. But the length doesn’t come from long takes in the manner of, say, Béla Tarr and the cutting isn’t noticeably slow. However, it is a very wordy film and it is the time it takes to navigate the conversations that creates the length. There are two pivotal conversations between Aydın and his sister and between Aydın and his wife which run to great length, the natural length of conversation. Film pacing is typically much faster than real life pacing. One reason for the longer scenes is to get closer to the rhythms of everyday life and the time it takes to dig out a character. The film illustrates the meaning of Godard’s thought that “all great fiction films tend towards documentary, just as all great documentaries tends towards fiction”.

The question I suppose is whether the film could be shorter as I heard someone in the audience suggesting as we left. What is the right length for a film? I recently watched Paweł Pawlikowski film Ida which won the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars earlier this year. It is only 80 minutes long and finishes sooner that you expect and sooner than you want although there is no need for the film to be any longer. On the other hand Paolo Sorrentino’s film La Grande Bellezza (*), which won the same prize at the Oscars in 2014, is 50 minutes shorter than this film at 140 minutes but I thought at least 20 minutes too long.  I think this is because after a couple of hours we already know all we are going to know and we want the director to wrap things up.

With this film I didn’t feel that there was any redundant scenes or that any scene was taking too long and the film ends as soon as there is a moment of closure with Aydın’s return home from his aborted trip to Istanbul.

This is the third of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films I have seen. We saw Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (*) a couple of years ago. That was a film of few words whereas this is a film with much talking. A few months ago I saw Clouds of May, Mayıs Sıkıntısı, which came out in 1999. Somewhere inland from Canakkale in a small town a filmmaker from Istanbul is making a film of his home town with his own family acting the parts. Underlying this story is another story. His father’s fields are bordered by a stand of poplars. For some reason not clearly explained the government is intent on cutting down the trees. The father believes he has a village title going back  in time sufficiently to establish his ownership but it seems the legal position is now uncertain at a time when old rights are being replaced by modern ownership titles. Many neighbours have cut down similar woods to avoid losing them to the government. His father is on the look-out for the arrival of the inspectors.

At the end of the film the two stories come together. The father, distracted by his family, has accompanied them to the Canakkale to visit the memorial sites. In seems that in his absence the inspectors have been as the trees are marked with red targets. In the evening light the son continues to make his film. The final shot is the light filtering through the trees blanching the screen. Chekov’s Cherry Orchard comes to mind before the reference is acknowledged in the final credits.