[Marxism] Nuri Bilge Ceylan profile

Louis Proyect 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

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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