Winter Sleep, the 2014 Cannes Film Festival winner.

Winter Sleep.

Winter Sleep.

Turkish film maker Nuri Bilge Ceylan made his international breakthrough with the powerful Once Upon A Time in Anatolia in 2011, reviewed earlier here. It won the Grand Prix, the runner up prize at Cannes that year, and his latest went one better, winning the Palme d’Or there last year.

As with Once Upon A Time, Winter Sleep was inspired by the short stories of Chekhov, and is in fact loosely based on two of them. But it doesn’t feel as obviously Chekhovian as the earlier film. Rather, it is the spirit of Ingmar Bergman that permeates his latest outing.

Bergman’s favourite film from his own body of work, not merely the one he was least dissatisfied with, but one of the few that he actually liked, was Winter Light. And it’s not hard to see what appealed to him about it. It’s his most unremittingly bleak film. And the only one of his mature films that he doesn’t saddle with a brief and unconvincing coda that tries to suggest some sense of reconciliation.

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Indeed, the up-beat beat that Wild Strawberries, Autumn Sonata and most glaringly Through A Glass Darkly end with are so fleeting and out of character, that you wonder whether you really saw them there.

Ceylan claims that his film is in no way inspired by Bergman. But given its subject matter mood and title, he clearly doth protesteth too much. You can see why he might. Who wants to be compared to Bergman? He needn’t have worried though. Winter Sleep comfortably justifies such lofty praise.

Winter Sleep.

Winter Sleep.

At the core of this intense, intimate and unforgiving character study are two quiet if monumental arguments. Aydin, a former actor, is now the owner of the only hotel in an isolated village in rural Turkey, making him the one fish in a non-existent pond. In the first of these rows he is confronted by his sister, who is living there with him having separated from her husband.

And in the second, he and his younger wife clash in a monumental show down that has clearly been building for months.

Melisa Sozen in Winter Sleep.

Melisa Sozen as the long suffering wife in Winter Sleep.

The stifling sense of suffocating claustrophobia, and the strong feeling that you are witnessing a family row that you really shouldn’t have heard any of are quintessentially Bergmanesque. But in contrast to some of Bergman’s, Ceylan’s images are as meticulously constructed as his characters are complex. And as with Once Upon A Time, the film comfortably justifies the three hours it unfolds over.

In short, another major film from one of the few serous film makers working today. You can see the trailer to Winter Sleep here.

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Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation”, Comfortably the Film of the Year.

Farhadi's "A Separation"

Iran’s A Separation has just cleaned up at this year’s Asian Film Awards. Before which it had won both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best foreign-language film. And last year it similarly triumphed at the Berlin Film Festival where it first surfaced. So there you are then. Sometimes good guys do come first.

This is Farhadi’s fifth film, but his first to break through internationally. Before which he’d worked extensively in theatre. So it’s unsurprising to hear him site Ingmar Bergman as a key influence in the interview he gives on the dvd extras, and to hear him alluding to Scenes From A Marriage from 1973. Impressively, it’s a comparison that A Separation comfortably merits.

According to Jan Fleischer, the National Film School’s script guru in London, a well told story needs to move through five distinct phases: Exposition, where we are introduced to the various elements of the story, Conflict, Crisis, Catastrophe, and finally Catharsis, as the story is brought to a definitive end.

This film illustrates that dynamic progression brilliantly. Indeed, it’s a long time since I’ve seen quite so much plot shoehorned into to a single story.

Practically every scene turns, as yet more twists are revealed and yet another surprise is unveiled. Which might have proved problematic, were it not all handled so very deftly, and in such a subtle, nuanced and all too believable way.

This is what Strindberg meant in his famous introduction to Miss Julie, where he wrote of his longing to see drama performed as if in front of a fourth wall. So seamless and confident are the performances and the direction here that you find yourself perched forever on the edge of your seat, watching as two families descend into all too avoidable tragedy.

Robert McKee maintains that the reason that Bergman is one of the most important film makers of the 20th century is because he was one of its greatest scriptwriters. If A Separation is anything to go by, Asghar Farhadi might very well be heading down a similar path.

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