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Cannes Palme 2014: Turkish film scoops top prize

Cannes Palme 2014: Turkish film scoops top prize

May 25

  • Top Cannes award goes to director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and ‘Winter Sleep’
  • British actor Timothy Spall takes actor prize, Julianne Moore get actress awards
  • Award shared between 83 year old Jean-Luc Godard and 25 year old Xavier Dolan

A MAJESTIC but long and very dialogue heavy film, “Winter Sleep” by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has won the top prize at the 67th Cannes Film Festival.

Ceylan’s film was awarded the Palme d’or in the closing ceremony on Saturday night at the Grand Lumiere Theatre in Cannes, thereby bringing the curtain down on this year’s edition.

He was presented with the award by film star Uma Thurman and auteur director Quentin Tarantino. The award was chosen by this year’s jury, headed by Kiwi filmmaker Jane Campion.

Ceylan’s prize-winning work, “Winter Sleep” is an intricate, absorbing study of family and the contrasting fortunes of two are at the very heart of this film, which is three hours and 16 minutes long.

At a press conference after the award, Ceylan said: “I feel a little strange to tell the truth, even though winning this award is very nice.

“I have won a lot of awards at Cannes, but to take home the Palme d’or, that’s amazing.

“When I wrote the film’s script, I did so as if I were writing a novel. I realised afterwards that it was too long. The first film was four and a half hours long. I finally shortened it during the editing process. When I make a film, I always try to work from the dark side of my soul. After “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, I felt ready to tell this story.”

The film is made with a particularly European sensibility, more redolent of the works of the great 19th century Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov.

Shot in the mountains of Turkey, in central Anatolia, its canvas is big, philosophical, and as the jury would surely testify, compelling.

Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) and Nihal (Melisa Sozen) 'Winter Sleep'

But it is not for everyone – some dialogue scenes last about 20 minutes and while there is a certain physical beauty to the natural environment, the film is neither original nor innovative in its visual language and without the words you would be completely lost. (It is an interesting exercise to watch a film without the subtitles or sound to see if you can understand the film simply by what you see).

Yet these can – and probably should – be seen as minor quibbles in what is a rich, revealing and deep film with an artistic integrity and purpose hard to ignore.

In the film, Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is a former actor from a privileged monied, landed family. He is also a writer and is working on a book about early Turkish theatre.

He and his wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen) run a guest house which accommodates a few tourists who like to walk and explore the countryside and rolling mountains.

Also with them is Aydin’s sister, Necla (Demet Akbag), who is going through a particularly messy and painful divorce and while on one level, the three look like they get on and support each other, Ceylan reveals deeper troubles and neuroses in these relationships.

He also pits their worries against those of another family who rent out one of Aydin’s many houses.

The main protagonist from this family, Ismail (Nejat Isler) has just returned from a bout in prison and the family, including a younger brother Hamdi (Serhat Kilic), are perpetually troubled by financial worries and are barely able to make ends meet. Debt collectors have already seized household items to make good the rent arrears and there is a bad feeling between the two families, much hidden beneath the surface pleasantries of an unequal relationship.

An incident involving Ismail’s son throw these tensions into the spotlight at the very beginning of “Winter Sleep” and the film slowly turns the lens ever closer on these families differing positions in society.

Elsewhere, British actor Timothy Spall won the Cannes Film Festival prize for best actor.

Spall reprises the role of the quite eccentric but hugely influential and revolutionary 19th century painter, JWM Turner.

It is a very English film by a very English director, Mike Leigh, and if we had to make a Palme choice on the films we saw, we would have handed it to Leigh.

It falls a tad short of being a great film, but it is very good and Spall’s award is much deserved. It has to be said the competition for this award was very tough this year.

Timothy Spall as JWM Turner in 'Mr Turner'

Steve Carell can think himself extremely unlucky – we hope people won’t forget his turn as the rather odd and unhinged John du Pont in Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher”, when it comes to Oscar nominations. The usual US comedy front man (he played the David Brent character in the US version of “The Office”) is a complete revelation.

The central performances in “Winter Sleep” are also very formidable and without that high degree of skill, the film would only be half what it is.

Julianne Moore won the best actress prize for her leading role in “Maps to the Stars”.

This is a darkly comic tale by director David Cronenberg about Hollywood excess and cheekily we might ask just how far did Moore have to extend herself?

Again of the films we saw, we would have been more excited about either Kristen Stewart in “Sils Maria” or Hilary Swank in “The Homesman” collecting the top actress award. Again, let’s hope when the Oscars come round, they won’t be forgotten.

Of the other prize-winning films we did catch, we probably wouldn’t argue a whole bunch about Bennett Miller taking the best director award for “Foxcatcher”.

Bennett Miller director of 'Foxcatcher'

We had mixed feelings for it, but perhaps in a more patient and relaxed (away from the 8.30am screenings) setting, we might have better settled into its methodical and gentle rhythm.

In fact, this film in some ways has a novelist’s sensibility about it – and it is very conscious in that at the end, (if you don’t know the real events at all) there is an explosive and shocking climax and it has real force because we have been led to it very slowly by Miller and to a large degree, Carell as well.

For none other than a scheduling clash, we didn’t get to the new Jean-Luc Godard film, “Adieu to Language” (‘Goodbye to language’). Anything Godard makes is worth watching and the special jury prize shared with Xavier Dolan for “Mommy” is an affirmative wink to both young and old filmmakers and their work.

Canadian Dolan is 25, while the French-Swiss Godard, a veteran of French New Wave in the 1960s, is 83.

The Grand Prix went to “Le Meraviglie (‘The Wonders’) by Alice Rohrwacher; the best screenplay to Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin for Leviathan. Sadly, we were unable to see these.

The other members of the main competition jury were: Carole Bouquet, Sofia Coppola, Leila Hatami, Do-Yeon Jeon, William Dafoe, Gael Garcia Bernal, Zhangke Jia, and Nicholas Winding Refn.

  • All the reviews for the films in competition we saw are here (first week) and here (second week, with ‘Sils Maria‘ added).
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Written by Asian Culture Vulture