Sunday, 25 May 2014


Most movie-goers would probably balk at sitting for three hours and 16 minutes to watch a film, but in the case of Winter Sleep by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, nearly every minute is worth it.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The movie has won the top Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes International Film Festival in France, fitting the mould of what jury president Jane Campion called “the brave and the original”.

Campion said the festival celebrates authorship and “films with a unique vision and their own personal voice”, and she might well have been describing Winter Sleep.

Set in central Anatolia, the film explores the stormy relationship between a former actor (played by Haluk Bilginer) and his young wife (Melissa Sözen) against the backdrop of inequality and social tension.

The director uses striking imagery, subtle humour and absorbing dialogue to hold viewers’ attention, and at the end, one is left with questions about how the individual can help to improve the world.

Ceylan said that when he wrote the film’s script, he did so as if he were writing a novel, and the movie does have the expansive feel of great literature, with its themes of self-examination and personal redemption.

A scene from 'Winter Sleep'
At the award ceremony on May 24, Ceylan dedicated the prize to “the young people of Turkey and to those who lost their lives during the year” – a reference to the political protests that have shaken his country as well as to a recent mining tragedy.

Ceylan’s work was among the 18 films in competition for the Palme d’Or, with several other filmmakers also addressing social issues, politics, war and human rights. Mauritanian-born director Abderrahmane Sissako presented a moving and timely drama about civilians resisting tyranny, but his film Timbuktu was surprisingly shut out of the main awards.

Abderrahmane Sissako
It did however win the prize of the independent Ecumenical Jury, which described the work as “a strong yet nuanced denunciation of an extremist interpretation of religion”.

The jury, comprising Protestant and Catholic movie experts, said its prize honoured Timbuktu's “high artistic achievement and its humour and restraint”.

“While offering a critique of intolerance the film draws attention to the humanity inherent in each person,” the jury added.

Timbuktu tells the story of a family in the north of Mali during the region’s occupation by religious extremists who have banned music, smoking and even football. Women are being told how to dress and behave and those who speak out are swiftly punished. But people still manage to resist, even in silence.

A scene from 'Timbuktu' 
The film gained much praise during the festival, which began May 14 and ended today with re-screenings of the movies, and critics commended both the director and his cast for their courage. At one press conference, Sissako broke down in tears and was applauded sympathetically by those present

“Maybe I’m crying in the place of all these people who’ve experienced these things, who truly suffered,” he said. "I consider that the people who were really courageous are the ones who experienced these events firsthand. When it’s your job to be a filmmaker, when you can do it, you have to spare no effort, you have to go even beyond what you thought you were capable of, you have to be daring enough to take risks, even if you fail.”

The poster for Charlie's Country
Another noteworthy prize went to the Australian Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil, who won the best actor prize in the Un Certain Regard category of the festival for Charlie’s Country, a film he co-wrote with director Rolf de Heer.

This category highlights “different” or off-beat works and featured 20 films in competition, representing 23 nationalities. Charlie’s Country was among the films that received a standing ovation, with critics giving high ratings to its depiction of Aboriginal life and struggles.

Gulpilil plays an ageing character who, fed up with governmental intervention in his community, decides to return to an older way of life, and the film follows his tragi-comical journey. 

The Un Certain Regard top prize went to White God (Fehér Isten), a riveting allegorical movie about a mixed-breed dog who has to fight to survive after a society declares his kind of dog unwanted. The film’s Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó said his work is a metaphor for Europeans’ treatment of minorities.

Ironically, as the festival ended, far-right, anti-immigrant political parties in France and the United Kingdom garnered a high percentage of the vote in elections for the European Parliament, and Mundruczó’s cautionary tale suddenly seemed a harbinger of real-life darkness. - A.M.

For the list of all prizes, see:

Canine stars of "White God"