Winter_Sleep_(Poster)Let’s be honest about Winter Sleep, the latest film from Turkey’s premier director/writer Nuri Bilge Ceylan, there is a lot of talking. However, this modern master of highly developed filmmaking also leaves a lot of interesting room for interpretation. Though Ceylan’s films show a specific anxiety for his country, they also reveal a general concern for human relations, be they domestic or social. His films have therefore crossed boundaries and earned praise outside his country (Winter Sleep won last year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes). Though the audience of a Ceylan film should be prepared to invest in what some might consider dense work (this movie is based on the writings of Anton Chekhov), the director makes his work visually inviting, as he has an expressive eye for location, framing of image and a sensitivity for acting. Complicating matters, however, is that his more recent work has meandered at a slower pace, featuring lengthy scenes of dialogue that culminate in extra-long run times. Though this might sound off-putting for the more impatient movie-goer, given a chance, Ceylan’s films can rattle the viewer to the core, as he takes his time to truly explore the complexity of action versus talk, leaving an impact that transcends language.


Much of Winter Sleep follows Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), a former stage actor now running a hotel named Othello — he has an affection for Shakespeare — in a remote neighborhood of Anatolia, Turkey, that looks as if it had been carved out of the mountains. He lives in the hotel with his divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag) and his younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen). While his manager Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan) collects rent from his downbeat tenants in a nearby village, Ayid prefers to show face to affluent visitors from Japan and other countries. In his dark study, he writes an opinion column for a small community paper. He pontificates on Islam as a religion of high culture. When he gets a letter from a reader stroking is ego and asking for help in building a school for the children in a village, he gives serious thought to taking action.


Aydin translates to “intellectual” in Turkish. Intellectuals are not known for taking action. Thought and writing about thoughts proves to be a perfectly comfortable narcissistic endeavor for this man, and this goes deep. Early in the film, Aydin is called out when a visitor asks about horses on the property, which this visitor had expected based on an image on the hotel’s website. Aydin admits he added the pictures of horses merely for decorative reasons. Feeling a bit guilty, however, Aydin seeks out a horse wrangler, who enlightens Aydin on the costs, time and complexity of capturing a wild horse, especially in winter. Despite the warning, Aydin acts as if money is no object. An allegorical subplot then unfolds that ends with Aydin setting the animal free again.

At the forefront of Aydin’s narrative is the difficult relationships with his wife and sister, just to name two important interactions in the film. They have intense, even epic conversations that build to grand confrontations. Sometimes the arguments go on so long that they seem circular, but they are also building to well-earned, climactic revelations. Nihal is also an intellectual, but she is applying her education and knowledge to political activism with a fellow idealist, which leads to some petty jealousy from Aydin. She wants to take action and actually do good for those in need, and she earns every right to complain about her husband’s “unbearable inconsistency” to criticize people for either being religious or not, only if it benefits his argument.


Meanwhile, Aydin’s unwritten book on a history of Turkish theater looms over their ever-corroding marital malaise. His solution is to give her money and entrust her to make a donation of it. Indeed, it will be she who will try to make good of this gesture, but Nihal is no flawless do-gooder either. Ceylan is much too subtle to allow her gesture to ring hollow. She does something with the money blinded by idealism, and she’s in for a harsh lesson right out of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. It’s all well and good to give away money to those in need but not so easy to fix things with a gesture as simple as that.

This is barely the surface of what happens in Winter Sleep. There is an attempt at spiritual enlightenment fueled by damaged ego and alcohol, and many of the confrontations reveal a concern for patriarchal righteousness. Ceylan deals with complex interactions of ideals, human nature and behavior and their consequences. Various characters tangle with pride, from both a very young and naïve perspective or an embittered, older perspective. A character some might overlook is Hamdi hodja (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç), the brother of one of Aydin’s tenants, Ismail (Nejat Isler) an alcoholic father with a dark, complicated past that is not revealed until near the film’s end. As an imam, Hamdi is more devout than Aydin. He also has a more genuine desire to make things right, but he also curses those he considers oppressors under his breath. The performances are amazing and appropriately dynamic throughout the film. The dialogue, though in a foreign language to this writer, feels natural, full of concern for understanding, as if these characters are indeed listening to one another and reacting, often to heartrending effect.


The complex, interesting characters populate a rather sublime backdrop captured in engrossing, panoramic anamorphic shots. The locations are often an expressive brown, gray and white, sometimes a very brilliant white with hints of blue. It’s a physical manifestation of the “gray area” at the heart of the film. Though it is dialogue that makes most of the film’s soundtrack, Winter Sleep also features an appropriately moody recurring musical theme in Schubert’s “Sonata No. 20 in A Major,” a melody that some might recognize from Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar.

Over the course of nearly 20 years, Ceylan’s film style has evolved in such interesting ways. Though I admired the effort of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia to offer a byzantine array of perspectives (sometimes within the same person) in the face of a murder mystery, it felt rather grueling. The lack of connection between the characters had a chilling effect early in the film. Winter Sleep is a much stronger work, however. While exploring varied perspectives between the characters, Ceylan weaves profound connections between them that make for an intensely moving film. It may feel long and drag a bit in the middle, especially when Aydin and Nihal take a painful mental journey into where they stand in their long marriage, but there’s a precious reward to be had when it all comes together at the end. It arrives not so much with a neat bow of clear conclusion but a deepening of insight into human connections and perspectives.


Too often, especially in escapist-driven Hollywood, films effectively numb us to consequences. Violence and abuse is heightened with humor, music and editing. We are rewarded with Schadenfreude and exit the theater with a dismissive feeling of contentedness that the mirror of the movie screen did not reflect us. Ceylan’s work is important in that it makes viewers aware of the consequence of actions driven by righteousness that affect those around us with a delicate, engrossing style stripped of gimmick and full of genuine concern and thought. It shows us the importance of empathy with patience and a generosity in storytelling and visuals that never feel condescending or preachy, just very raw and real.

Hans Morgenstern

Winter Sleep runs 196 minutes, is in Turkish and English with English subtitles and is not rated (it has some domestic violence [mostly emotional] and maybe some language, but it should not be offensive to most, except maybe the impatient). It opens Friday, Jan. 9, in South Florida. It plays in the Miami-Dade area at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review. In Broward it will show at the Cinema Paradiso – Fort Lauderdale and the Cinema Paradiso – Hollywood. If you live outside of South Florida, it may already be playing in your neighborhood or coming soon. Visit the film’s website and click “view theaters and showtimes” for U.S. screening info.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Yesterday, the “Miami New Times” arts and culture blog “Cultist” published an interview I performed with actor Brady Corbet. He is at the Miami International Film Festival to introduce Robert Bresson’s masterpiece Au Hasard Balthazar in 35mm during a one-night only screening this Friday (buy tickets).

For that article we spoke about the merits of this 1966 film, its importance in the world of cinema and his own personal experience with the movie. You can read that article here:

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We spent the other half of the interview discussing the merits of watching and making movies in 35mm. Based on other posts written on this blog, a reader will notice a concern and interest I have in the format (here are two particular in-depth posts about it: ‘Side By Side’ presents close examination of digital’s quiet conquest over filmTo accept the death of celluloid). Brady CorbetCorbet revealed an equal, if not deeper concern than I about the state of 35mm, and I found it wonderful to know a filmmaker as young as he (24) not only shows concern about it, but is also taking steps to keep the format alive.

When the leaders at MIFF asked him to host a screening, he agreed to do so only if it were a 35mm film print. “I said, ‘Well, here’s ten films I’d be happy to screen, but I want to make sure that it’s a print. I don’t want to screen a DCP [Digital Cinema Package],’” he recalls and explains:  “First of all, DCPs are very unreliable. They’re fussy, and there’s frequently drop outs. There’s all sorts of problems with them, and second of all, there’s a majesty about celluloid that at this point is impossible to replicate.”

He considers the idea to replace film cameras with digital rather premature, noting that the image capable with the highest quality digital camera has yet to match what can be achieved with 35mm. “I saw Leos Carax speak after a screening of Holy Motors this year, and he said this very funny thing in regards to the digital movement. Denis Lavant in 'Holy Motors.' Still Image courtesy of Indomina ReleasingHe said, ‘I feel like we were prescribed an antidote or a medicine for something that we weren’t sick for yet,’ and so for me, unfortunately, I think that eventually, maybe in five years or 10 years, I don’t know, it will be impossible to tell the difference, but right now you still can.”

Corbet will not go as far as calling all digital filmmaking inferior to 35mm. He says there are certain master filmmakers who understand the various capabilities of either format and some that know how to work in either one when the occasion calls for it. For instance, he gives passes to both Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke (whose movies he has acted in) because they know what it is like to work on film.I think those two guys have been making some of the best movies of our generation, clearly. But it’s an interesting thing. for them it’s probably very exciting because when they started their careers, Lars got to make his first five or six projects on film, and then I understand how freeing and exciting it must have been for him to shoot Breaking the Waves digitally.breaking-41 I’m sure it sort of re-invigorated his interest in the medium. So, as far as they’re concerned, I think they can do whatever the hell they want.”

However, when it comes to a current generation beginning to craft work with digital translation, a lot of the creative process gets lost, as many mechanics are taken for granted. “I think it’s a strange thing for this next generation of filmmakers to grow up on digital without having to learn the analog, for lack of a better word. I feel like you should have the experience of working with something tangible first and understand that deeply and then make a choice.”

Corbet knows firsthand what it’s like to shoot a film on 35mm. His first short film, which played at the Miami International Film Festival in 2008, was shot and projected in 35. He is disappointed that most people will now only have a chance to see it online:

Protect You + Me from Paul Rubinfeld on Vimeo.

“The transfers that have existed online, there’s a lot of problems,” he notes. “They’re either too bright or too contrasty. When you get into the process of exporting it or the output or whatever, when the contrast goes that black, then suddenly you don’t get that milkiness or that nuance that 35mm has naturally. So it’s kinda hard to tell on a computer, but you could tell when it was projected. And Darius Khondji shot that film, so it’s very striking visually. I mean, I was 18 or 19 years old when I made it, so it’s sort of like looking at baby pictures now. But there’s still something to it I think. I haven’t seen it in a while.”

Corbet has also shot in digital, most recently regarding a much-liked music video for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes. “I always knew people will be watching the video on computers,” he says. “It’s a very modern video, so we shot that on the Alexa, and I’m very happy with the look of it. It’s very appropriate for the content, very suitable. That was shot by Jody Lee Lipes who shot Martha Marcy May Marlene and other things that we worked on together. I basically wish—my hope for 35mm is that simply it remains an option.”

Corbet does recognize that digital technology has unique aspects in certain lighting environs that makes 35mm obsolete. He brings up Simon Killer, a film he co-wrote with its director Antonio Campos and which he plays the titular role. “I think there are plenty of occasions when digital technology is more appropriate,” he says. “For example, a film we have coming out in a couple of months, called Simon Killer was shot on the Alexa, and we couldn’t have really shot the movie on any other format because the Alexa and its sensitivity to light sees more than human eyes see. You can shoot in really negative lighting circumstances and you still have a viewable image. That film we shot without any film lights. We shot it with augmented practicals and available light, so we could have never made that movie for the price we made it for and made it look as good as it looks without that technology.”


It’s an uphill battle for 35, and Corbet recognizes this. When producers and studio heads or even your own collaborators on the films, like actors and actresses, want to see that day’s takes before the end of the day, it cannot be done with 35. “The problem is also that it’s an issue of immediacy too,” he notes. “They want to see dailies shot all day, and they want to review it at 7 p.m., as soon as you’ve wrapped up photography for the day … People are just getting less and less patient.”

He notes that impatience has a detrimental effect on the creative process. “I believe that sometimes affects the content in a really negative way because you’re rushing things and sometimes it’s nice to sit with something for a little while, and imperfections are a nice thing too. They give an image life.”

Going back to the screening tomorrow night, Corbet has hopes that the film print will look quite nice. “I have a feeling that the print that we have of Au Hasard Balthazar is probably going to look pretty pristine because I imagine it’s a print that Rialto did of the last release of it, so I think that they’re new prints.”

Hans Morgenstern

Au Hasard Balthazar will screen Friday, March 8, at 7:15 p.m. with an introduction by actor/director Brady Corbet as part of the Miami International Film Festival (buy tickets to the event here; this is a hyperlink).

Note: This was to be a post on Day 6 of the Miami International Film Festival and Dark Blood, but a meeting at the “Miami New Times” dragged long into the night, and I missed the screening. Day 7 it’s back to an intimate venue: O Cinema for a film with less hype following it than Dark Blood but much critical acclaim: Post Tenebras Lux (click here for tickets).


(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


This morning most of my Miami International Film Festival coverage will be found on the “Miami New Times” blog “Cultist.” As I noted yesterday, Day 5 at MIFF was an assignment to check out the Oscar-nominated No at the Olympia Theater. I expected to be impressed, but not as impressed as I wound up. This film clearly stands as one of the great cinematic moments of 2012, now finally premiering in Miami in 2013. The key to the film’s brilliance lies in the inspired choice of cinematography meant to blend with television video of the late-1980s period it covers. The smaller academy 4:3 ratio also makes for an appropriate experience, though a little bizarre for the giant Olympia, which, for the first time there at this year’s festival, I noticed the venue packed up to the nosebleed section.

My response to No has appeared in the “Miami New Times” this morning. So, as not to carry on and steal the thunder of the piece, jump over by clicking through the “Cultist” logo below to see why I think it’s so brilliant:

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Earlier this very morning, my interview with actor Brady Corbet also appeared in the same blog. He is at MIFF not for his new film Simon Killer (for reasons I have yet to pry from MIFF’s leaders’ lips, but I shall!), but to introduce Robert Bresson’s masterpiece Au Hasard Balthazar… on 35mm. I was eager to speak to this kid, who is close to half my age, about his noble effort to not only keep classics like this film in the consciousness of filmgoers but also champion the 35mm format. You can read that article by clicking on the titular donkey in the still image below:


Half of our conversation was on the merits of 35mm alone, including what role the format plays as far as creativity as well as the picture quality. You can expect that Q&A to appear shortly, if not on “Cultist,” then in this blog.

As for tonight’s screening, it will be a major one: Dark Blood, otherwise known as the lost River Phoenix film (buy tickets). Director George Sluizer never finished the film in 1993 due to movietalk-riverphoenix-darkblood630-jpg_202136Phoenix’s death more than halfway through filming. However, the work continued to haunt the director, and he only recently put together a film from what he had filmed after many trials and tribulations, including stealing the master prints from a film lab before they were slated for destruction. The respected “Village Voice” critic Scott Foundas eschews the romanticism about the film’s world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival last month, calling it a “lemon,” so I’m keeping my expectations low.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


Day 3 of the Miami International Film Festival started as a bit of a drag with a pair of films that underwhelmed. However, the night ended on a high note as the festival’s director invited me to a VIP party to close the night in celebration of that night’s career achievement award recipient: Lasse Hallström.

I spent most of my time at O Cinema that day, walking in with high hopes for Bob Wilson’s Life & Death of Marina Abramovic. Though I could not have expected to see a filmed version of the actual stage play/opera by Robert Wilson with music by Antony Hegarty and Matmos, I had at least hoped for something beyond brief scenes from the performance and people patting one another on the back. It starts promisingly with Wilson recounting the moment the performance artist called him up to ask him to design her funeral.

The snippets from the performance and rehearsals were as startling as anyone familiar with Wilson’s work should expect. Willem Dafoe delights wearing expressionistic face paint like a Technicolor version of the makeup painted on the actors in the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. bob_wilsons_life_and_death_of_marina_abramovic_posterHowever, I could not help but notice the sentimentality of it all, which stands in stark contrast to the aesthetic of the work of the performance artist herself. Abramovic is well-known as having put her body through the ringer for her work. She stood against the idea of staged performances with fake blood. Wilson’s work is stagey to the extreme. Abramovic searches for some pain to relate with, and it arrives in her taking the role of her own, abusive mother.

In the end, the talents here are unparalleled and maybe should be forgiven some self-appreciation. Perhaps an exploration of a staged, rehearsed performance with props and costumes will serve Abramovic well in her continued evolution as she approaches a deeper sense of her own mortality. An artist should be allowed to evolve for the sake of the integrity of her art, which should never be reduced to gimmick in order to maintain relevance. The documentary was interesting though it did not leave me as enraptured as I would have hoped for.

The film also opened with a very loose narrative short film that had nothing to do with Abramovic. “Ebb and Flow” was a 29-minute short that at first seemed to recall Pedro Costa’s work in the slums of Lisbon, with an opening scene of a shirtless man hanging laundry inside a bricked building in shadows sliced by incongruent light. ebb-an-flow-rodrigo-marianaThe film turned out to be a series of loosely linked scenes about the young man trying to raise a young daughter in Brazil while keeping a job building extreme car stereos. Oh, and he’s deaf. Though the scenes are often rambling and slight, with little conflict, they are quite humanistic and raw.

I broke up the screenings at O Cinema by dashing over from the Wynwood base of the art house to Downtown Miami and the festival’s primo venue, the Olympia theater, for Hallström’s career achievement award tribute and presentation. I greeted he and his wife actress Lena Olin at the end of the red carpet where festival director and kind champion of this blog, Jaie Laplante introduced me with words of flattery. Olin and I had a nice chat, and I was happy to shake Hallström’s hand after “meeting” him only over the phone for a conversation that ended up published in the “Miami Herald” (read it here).

They were soon whisked away for the presentation of Hallström’s career achievement award. I watched it from the back of the room. It began with a montage of marvelous scenes from some of his more famous films. During the intertitles someone messed up the dates noting Abba: the Movie as a 1985 film and then My Life As a Dog as coming from 1977. Murmurs from the crowd proved I was not the only one to have noticed this flub. But the typo was soon forgotten, as one enchanting scene after another surprised members of the audience. They gasped at the breadth of this man’s work since his U.S. debut in Miami, which included Chocolat, Cider House Rules, Once Around, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. The producer of Hallström’s first English-language film, Once Around, actor Griffin Dunne presented the award, noting the embarrassing amount of tears he shed when he first saw My Life as a Dog. When it was his turn to speak, Hallström could not help but express how precious the moment was when the film premiered at the 1987 Miami International Film Festival. It clearly stands as one of the most memorable experiences of his life.

As I had already seen that night’s Hallström film ahead of my interview with the director, I headed back to O Cinema for one more movieErrorsOfTheHumanBody-Poster-565x798. Part of MIFF’s Mayhem series, Errors of the Human Body proved downright disappointing. I had hoped for something at least slightly Cronenbergian, but ended up with a film way too long for its own good. It lingered on scenes for so long dread turned to boredom. To make matters worse, the film ended with a twist that trumped anything prior. As one moviegoer outside O Cinema exclaimed, “I feel as ripped off as when I watched Lost!” Errors has been picked up by IFC Films, so you may be able to see it for yourselves soon enough, be it in a theater near you if not on-demand.

After that film, I took up Laplante’s invitation to stop by the VIP party at the Epic Hotel, a fancy new hotel a few blocks south of the Olympia in Downtown Miami, just before the Brickell financial district. It was a chilly walk on an extra cold night for Miami (like yesterday, low 50s), but it proved worthwhile. After not seeing anyone I recognized around the whole bar, I saw Olin and Hallström sitting alone at a small table and approached. We ended up chatting the night away. I mostly spoke with Olin who shared her feelings about what a leap of faith acting in film is, considering she came from live theater in Stockholm. She shared that, while making the Unbearable Lightness of Being, she had feared the end result would be an embarrassing mess. But what a nice surprise she would be in for, as most cinephiles know.

Later, one of 1990s great American independent filmmakers came over to introduced himself, who Hallström seemed not to know. Olin and Hallstrom at afer party. Image fourtesy of MIFF Facebook pageWhit Stillman is at the festival as part of the jury for the festival’s long-running Knight Ibero-American Competition. I gushingly vouched for the talent of Stillman while also introducing myself to him. We bonded after he dared asked if I had ever panned one of his films, and I shamelessly admitted that indeed I had (read it here). Regardless to say, an interesting conversation turned even more interesting, as we all hunched over the tiny table to hear everyone speak.

At the end of the night, I wished Olin and Hallström a pleasant trip back to their home in New York for which they are headed to today. Stillman shared his email address with me, as he and I look to make plans for meeting at some point during the festival. I hope to make up for my harsh review of Damsels in Distress, which the Stillman-centric fansite called “thoughtful.” The man was utterly agreeable and down to earth and is truly looking forward to our conversation, which I hope to share here.

Today, I have a ticket to only the following screening:

Monday, March 4th


It’s a weekday, so it will mean a lot of writing. Among assignments to get to: transcribing an interview with actor Brady Corbet who will be down at MIFF on Friday to host a 35mm screening of Robert Bresson’s masterpiece Au Hasard Balthazar (if you have nothing else to see, buy tickets).

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)