As close as we are to Aydin - in an opening shot the camera slowly zooms in on the back of his head - our understanding of him develops just as the film does. He's a complex and shifting character. His opportunism and sneaky cynicism contrast his laid-back bonhomie. When a tenant wants to compensate Aydin for his damaged car, Aydin airily declares that it's all okay and he doesn't quite recall the sum involved, while at the same time making sure that the young man does know exactly the sum he should pay by the end of the conversation, humiliating him in the process. The much younger Nihal, meanwhile, is trying in some way to compensate for a life already wasted. Feeling suffocated by her husband, she attempts to stretch out on her own, sponsoring a charity drive for local schools and flirting with the teacher who helps her, but her charity work is tainted by the source of her wealth and her somewhat selfish motives.
While Nihal delivers the first salvo in a fight to bring Aydin down a peg or two, it's with her that he's forced to confront the limits of his own deluded self-satisfaction, ultimately recognising that he still loves his wife. With a richness of characterisation usually reserved for hefty novels, each shot in Winter Sleep glows like a symbol, whilst each digression is almost a short story in itself. Some of the best scenes are reserved for marginal characters: a young child - the son of a tenant - throws a rock at Aydin's car; a teacher quotes revolutionary lines from Shakespeare, genuinely infuriated by Aydin's obstinate self-justifications. Although nothing much happens in Ceylan's drama, in a sense everything does. Power shifts, new ideas are awoken and an old patriarchy begins to crumble with the exposure of the injustices which supported it. Even Aydin is forced to put up or shut up. To quote Shelley: "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"
Winter Sleep featured in CineVue's ‘Best films of 2014’ feature. You can read the full list here