Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Movie Review: Winter Sleep -- Interesting, Worth Watching

Winter Sleep  won the Palm d'or award in 2014.

The movie is set in a hotel in a neighborhood where houses are built inside caves in Cappadocia, Turkey. It's tone has been compared to a Chekhov story, where complicated lives are forced to intersect because they live in one place and spend most time indoors due to a long winter.

The main character, Ayden, is a former actor. Now he is a landowner and runs a hotel. He also collects rents from town folk who live in his properties; and he writes a column for the community newspaper. He's the richest man in the town, and his wife, Nihal, is young and beautiful.

 Ayden's sister, Necla, lives with them. Necla recently separated from her alcoholic husband.

While Ayden, Necla and Nihal feel secure indoors, even as they wrestle with their own demons, they are blind to the growing hostility of the town, especially when it's time to meet rent payments.

Winter "sleeps" because Ayden remains undiscerning of the "sleeping" chaos outside the hotel walls. He, Nihal, and Necla have also put their unmet desires and broken dreams to "sleep". But Necla's sleep is not restful and her dissatisfactions  often rise to the surface. she also refuses to allow Nihal and Ayden to let sleeping dogs lie.

A slice of a conversation between Necla and Nihal discuss a surprisingly Christian concept, forgiveness. Context: Necla misses her alcoholic husband, whom she recently divorced. Since then, her husband's drinking has worsened, and Necla is more miserable. Nihal advises Necla not to blame herself. This conversation follows:

Necla: "You want me to join the herd that believes all badness comes from others?"

Nihal: "No, but it still doesn't have to be "your" mistake." That's what I'm saying. Why do you never want to think like that?"

Necla: "Because I don't see any good in it. A sensible person should be interested in her own share of guilt."

Nihal: "I see no harm in some self-deception to protect yourself. But, well, where do you think you were wrong?"

Necla: "I don't know but let me say it as an example. If I'd overlooked all the evil stuff Necdet (Necla's ex-husband) did to me, if I hadn't resisted, if I hadn't divorced him, say, if I could have made him face his own evil side, I don't know. What would have happened if I acted differently?"

Nihal: "You mean, if you hadn't resisted all the bad things he did, he would have finally felt ashamed?"

Necla: "Yes. Yes, exactly."

A friend who is a former Muslim told me there is no forgiveness in Islam. But in secular Turkey, this movie touches on the idea of forgiveness in a way that meets the Catholic concept of forgiveness. A Catholic priest would have given Necla a stampita and talk of St. Monica, the patron saint of alcoholics (like her abusive alcoholic husband), and those affected by them.

Personally, I believe you can forgive, but you don't have to reconcile, ergo go back to your abusive husband to prove you've forgiven him. You have to be wise.

Turkey is a secular country. Islam here is different from other predominantly Islam countries, but the culture remains. The culture of protecting women, for example, such as Nihal who has been fooled by her involvement in a pro-poor movement whose members secretly abhor her husband.

The irony of the movie is that forgiveness does take place, but not by Necla. It is by another character, and the forgiveness emanates from love, rather than some religious nudge.

Meanwhile, outward expressions of repentance seeking forgiveness are precisely that -- a show with no substance. A boy who threw  a rock at the car of Ayden is brought by his father to Ayden's house to apologize.

Later in the movie, Nihal tries to  give money to the family of the boy to help them out. (There is only one wage earner for a family of four others, including a brother who was released from jail but is unemployable). She discovers, too late, that their hatred is the stronger force that guides them, rather than seeking help or exoneration.

In secular Turkey there are cultural nuances that make the response that Nihal got from the boy's family more understandable. Nihal's winter sleep was a sheltered cocoon of protection designed by her husband. She was, in his words, a "spoiled rich woman who lacks understanding of the intricacies of poverty and culture."

In another culture, this particular scene might have ended differently. In the Philippines the family would have accepted the money with gratitude and remained loyal to the giver. In a Western country the money may have been accepted with thankfulness and a promise to pay back, through installments.

If you buy this movie, be sure to get one with English subtitles. Here's a link to one that is subtitled in English:

And here's the trailer to the movie: