[Marxism] Nuri Bilge Ceylan profile
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 23 08:35:58 MST 2014
NY Times, Dec. 23 2014
A Director Holds Up a Mirror to Turkey
‘Winter Sleep,' a Nuri Bilge Ceylan Take on Turkish Life
By RACHEL DONADIO
ISTANBUL — “Winter Sleep,” the deeply felt new film by the Turkish
director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, took the top prize at this year’s Cannes
Film Festival and has been hailed by critics, who say it cements his
place as one of the most important auteurs working today.
Like his work, Mr. Ceylan can be reticent and introspective. In a recent
interview here, he grew most animated at the observation that the film —
which is at once sweeping and interior, with landscapes reminiscent of
westerns and intense Bergman-esque dialogue — was almost impossible to
“I cannot tell what it is about,” Mr. Ceylan (pronounced ZHAY-lan) said
over tea with his wife on a gray day here in the apartment he uses as an
office. “It’s about life,” he said. “My films are mostly about humans,
trying to understand human relations. The story, or what’s happening, is
not that important.”
Based on two Chekhov works and set in a rural Anatolian hotel in winter,
“Winter Sleep” centers on Aydin, a retired actor whose name in Turkish
means “enlightened intellectual,” and Nihal, his beautiful younger wife,
who have moved to a hotel he has inherited. The film, which opened in
New York on Friday and will open nationwide on Jan. 16, stars Haluk
Bilginer as the alternately compassionate and arrogant husband, Melisa
Sozen as his kind, frustrated spouse, and Demet Akbag, a regular in
Turkish comedies, as Aydin’s divorced sister.
The film begins with an act of vengeance: a boy throwing a rock through
a car window. His family owes rent to Aydin, but the prime wage earner,
played with seething fury by Nejat Isler, has been jailed. Other social
issues play out in the background; Nihal wants to raise money to help
improve the local schools. Aydin, who spends his days writing pompous
editorials for the local paper, thinks she is wasting her time.
The film’s title in Turkish means “hibernation,” and the story unfolds
slowly and unexpectedly, like a novel, over more than three hours. It
touches on themes Mr. Ceylan has explored in previous films — the
divides between rural and urban Turkey, the working class and the
intelligentsia, religion and secularism; as well as honor, pride,
morality and the ways we are and are not able to express love. (Mr.
Ceylan’s films are deliberately paced and carefully framed, qualities
that have left some critics cold.)
Building on Mr. Ceylan’s breakthrough film, “Once Upon a Time in
Anatolia,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2011, “Winter Sleep”
adds a deeper register to the director’s work. “This really moved him
into another place creatively,” said Sheryl Mousley, curator of film and
video at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which recently held a
retrospective of his films. “It sometimes takes three hours to unravel a
story as simple and complex as this one.”
Aydin and Nihal’s arguments are the product of intense collaboration
between Mr. Ceylan, 55, and Ebru Ceylan, 38, his wife, who together
wrote the screenplay, as they did for “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” and
“Climates,” Mr. Ceylan’s 2006 film, in which they starred as a couple
whose relationship unravels.
The director and writer met by chance in an Istanbul cafe when she was
19 and already a fan of his work, and they now have two children. They
spent six months writing “Winter Sleep.” At first he wanted more
literary dialogue. But Ms. Ceylan pushed for a more conversational tone.
“She was right,” Mr. Ceylan said.
In conversation she comes across as more forceful and he more subdued.
Sometimes they shared a laugh. “He’s a very difficult director in every
aspect,” Ms. Ceylan said, speaking in Turkish through a translator.
“He’s a perfectionist.”
“She wants the first draft to be accepted,” Mr. Ceylan added in English,
smiling. “It’s not like that in cinema.”
For 15 years, Mr. Ceylan said, he had wanted to make a film based on the
Chekhov stories “The Wife” and “Excellent People,” but until the success
of “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” which was also based on Chekhov, he
lacked the confidence to tackle it.
Ms. Ceylan added that whenever she reread “The Wife,” she cried. “It’s a
story that touches depths of feelings and emotions that have hardly been
touched before,” she said. “Things that are experienced between two
people but seem impossible to explain.”
Mr. Ceylan began his career as a photographer, and his early films were
self-financed and featured his relatives and close friends with whom he
felt comfortable working. He calls those works his “learning period.”
Then his 2002 film, “Uzak” (“Distant”), was selected for Cannes.
It starred his cousin Mehmet Emin Toprak as a man who moves from his
rural hometown to Istanbul in the dead of winter to seek work and live
with a relative. Mr. Toprak died in a car accident before the 2003
festival, where he won a best actor award posthumously. “It was
terrible,” Mr. Ceylan said.
That film definitively put Mr. Ceylan on the map, said Jean-Michel
Frodon, a critic for the French edition of Slate and a former editor of
Cahiers du Cinéma. Being a Cannes regular — Mr. Ceylan won the best
director prize there for “Three Monkeys” in 2008 — “commonly leads to
the highest award that he got this year,” Mr. Frodon added.
For the “Winter Sleep” premiere at Cannes, Mr. Ceylan and his cast
walked the red carpet wearing black ribbons in solidarity with victims
of a mining accident in Turkey. He dedicated his Palme d’Or for that
film to “the young people in Turkey and those who lost their lives in
the last year,” an implicit reference to both the miners and those
involved in the 2013 Gezi Park anti-government uprisings in Istanbul.
“It was a tragic year, it was a complicated year,” he said in the interview.
“Winter Sleep,” which cost 3 million euros ($3.7 million) and received
financing from the Turkish government as well as the French production
company Memento Films, is not overtly political but does address social
“Ceylan’s value lies in his ability to turn these personal stories into
some sort of a grand narrative that hints something about the
whereabouts of the country,” said Firat Yucel, editor in chief of the
Turkish film magazine Altyazi. “For us, living in an enormously
patriarchal country, they lack politics,” he added about the films.
Mr. Ceylan said his work rides on subtleties. “The ambiguous is part of
life — that’s the thing it’s worth making movies for,” he said. He is
dismissive of Hollywood conventions that involve neatly packaged
lessons. “They want a life coach,” he said. “I’m just trying to show
life as I feel it.”
Back in his office, as the tea grew cold, Mr. Ceylan said he hoped that
“Winter Sleep” would inspire in viewers “the same kind of feeling that I
feel when I read Chekhov, which is a kind of melancholy. But in this
melancholy, life seems a more meaningful place.”
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