Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Winter Sleep": Textually Brilliant, Exhaustively Long

Now Available on DVD and Blu-ray

One of the potential dangers of independent cinema is that a lack of producer input can lead to an inferior product.  Winter Sleep is such a film to demonstrate that issue; it is by no means a bad film, and it is actually a rather brilliant character study of its protagonist.  However, the film has a runtime of over three hours, with many scenes running for excessively long periods that grind the narrative to a screeching halt.

Taking place in a Turkish village (and with dialogue entirely in Turkish), Winter Sleep is the story of Aydin, a former actor and current hotel owner, as well as landlord over a substantial portion of the village.  His time is devoted mostly to researching for a book he wishes to write about Turkish theater and writing columns for the local paper.  He is a wealthy and educated man, but leaves the handling of his affairs to an assistant and a team of lawyers.  One day, while driving with his assistant, a young boy throws a rock at Aydin’s window, which we later find out is in retaliation against Aydin’s legal team hiring debt collectors to claim property to pay for months of unpaid rent.  The boy’s uncle is the local imam, and tries to get Aydin to see charity in assisting a family that is down on their luck and in need of leniency in paying their rent.

The truly remarkable thing about Aydin is that he is a creature of self-delusion and contradiction, sitting aloft in an ivory tower that is admittedly of his own devise, yet feels no need to personally address the concerns of his tenants or the well-being of his fellow man.  In fact, behind his general niceties and lofty speeches of idealized community and morality, Aydin is an extremely selfish and egotistical person, claiming that any sort of financial leniency he could offer is out of his hands, even though he is the one in charge, ultimately benefits most from rent collection, and has already amassed considerable wealth.  In essence, Aydin is the pure embodiment of libertarianism, yet is not committed enough to the idea of self-realization to admit that he operates in a self-imposed isolation.

And yet, despite this brilliant character study, it gets lost in the fact that the film itself is just exhausting.  The first and third hours are handled just fine, with decent pacing and enough narrative twists to almost work as a film entirely on their own.  The middle third, however, feels unnecessarily protracted, almost entirely consumed by two extremely long scenes wherein Aydin speaks with his sister and his wife, both of whom spend more than twenty minutes conversing about how Aydin is a hypocrite and a narcissist.  Not only are these scenes overlong and, with the exception of one or two key plot points, completely unnecessary, they are also incredibly blunt, laying out in synoptic form the entire thesis on Aydin’s personality.  The film is not so subtle that these dialogues are needed to explain the thematic nuances, and they stretch the film to almost unbearable lengths.

However, I do think Winter Sleep is worth recommending.  After the first protracted conversation, which ends at roughly the halfway point, I would recommend taking a break and coming back to see the second half, just for the sake of allowing your brain to absorb everything that has happened up to that point.  This is a film that would have been much better with tighter construction and more editing, but as is, it is an engrossing character study and well worth watching… just not in one sitting.

What overlong films do you think could have stood to be edited down?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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