Powerful Turkish film "Winter Sleep" wows Cannes

Associated Press
Actor Haluk Bilginer during a press conference for Winter Sleep at the 67th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
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Actor Haluk Bilginer during a press conference for Winter Sleep at the 67th international film festival, …

CANNES, France (AP) — "Winter Sleep," the bookies' early front-runner for the Palme d'Or, the slow-burning but powerful Turkish family drama, is unafraid to tackle Sartrian questions of personal responsibility — and the hate that lurks beneath a seemingly peaceful family.

Its director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is a Cannes Film Festival darling, having won the Jury Prize in 2011 for the acclaimed "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia."

His film explores the silent life of the easygoing Aydin, played majestically by Haluk Bilginer, who runs a hotel with his wife and sister in a snowy village the rocky Turkish hills.

But all is not what meets the eye — especially when a young boy throws a stone at a car, nearly killing its passengers.

The relationships between the rich Ayudin and the two women slowly unravel to expose tensions over how he runs his life, presiding like a benevolent lord over the village in which he owns property and takes rent from his poor and troubled tenants.

His sister, plagued by boredom (the "sleep") in the quiet village, accuses him of self-importance in the column he writes for the local newspaper. His wife accuses him of selfishness and is considering divorce. But the film, shown through the perspective of Ayudin himself, doesn't really show how Ayudin, a rather kind character, is at fault. The relative virtues and vices of all the characters remain ambiguous — an intentional point.

"It was kind of ambiguous feeling I want to leave behind," Ceylan said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"(Ayudin) has done nothing wrong. Problems between people don't arise because we do wrong. But because we need problems, a certain amount unhappiness in life. We create them," he added.

When the boy inexplicably throws a rock smashing Ayudin's car window, the backstory emerges: his father, a tenant who hasn't paid rent, has been roughed up by one of Ayudin's bailiffs. Ayudin doesn't accept responsibility, since he lets his assistant and lawyer deal with his estate so he doesn't have to deal with the consequences.

The film asks, as did French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: Where does moral responsibility begin and end?

Ceylan's film ambitiously explores the human soul and poses societal questions that reach far.

He links this week's coal mine fire in Turkey — in which 301 workers were killed — to the message of the film.

"Now there is this big accident, no one will accept responsibility, everybody blames others," Ceylan said.

He said in other countries ministers would resign in similar situations — and says it's the artist's responsibility to stir society.

"I think deceiving yourself is common in Turkish culture ... If we faced with the bitter realities we would be more responsible people," he added

"These kinds of accidents would be less."

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP

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