At the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s captivating character study “Winter Sleep” claimed the Palme d’Or, the granddaddy festival’s top award, as well as the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Prize. With “Winter Sleep,” Ceylan finally added the penultimate Cannes honor to his already massive collection of Cannes trophies.
Discerning art-house audiences should not scared by the exceptional length of “Winter Sleep,” which is worth viewing throughout its bulging three-hour, 16-minute running time. Ceylan is at the top of his game, crafting a densely rewarding feature full of enlightening details. His usual mesmerizing images are complemented by more dialogue than usual for a Ceylan film. He and his wife Ebru, a regular collaborator, co-wrote the intelligent screenplay, inspired by renowned Russian author Anton Chekhov’s short stories.
Veteran Turkish actor Haluk Bilginer (a prominent face in Turkish cinema perhaps best known to English-speaking audiences for “Ishtar” and the U.K. television drama “EastEnders”) commands the screen with a tour-de-force performance depicting the restlessness of the never-satisfied protagonist Aydin. In a distant village of central Anatolia, the aging patriarch lives a prosperous if unintended life as the owner of a money-making portfolio of real estate inherited from his father, including a boutique hotel where his family resides, commercial properties and rental homes etched out of the steppes.
Not content to rest on his laurels and merely live off his substantial passive income as a landlord, Aydin seeks to maintain his glory as a former actor. He writes a weekly column for a newspaper, which his newly divorced, bitter sister Necla (Demet Akbag) roundly criticizes for its arrogant tone, and harbors ambitions to pen a grand volume documenting the history of theater in Turkey. His family members along with the villagers suffer from his imperious yet hazily indifferent presence.
Turkish actress Melisa Sözen demands attention for her searing depiction of the misery of Nihal, Aydin’s long-ignored, much younger trophy wife. Disenchanted by the ennui of their privileged lifestyle, she pours her energies into charity work. But that is not rewarding enough to stop her from contemplating leaving her husband, who consistently brushes off her complaints as well as those of others.
Meanwhile, a young boy, Ilyas (Emirhan Doruktutan), throws a rock at Aydin’s car, shattering a window. While the older man stands back at a safe distance, he observes the ensuing altercation between Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan), his driver and facilities manager, and the lad’s intoxicated father Ismail (Nejat Isler), a tenant who is livid after a visit from a thuggish debt collector. Later, Ilyas’s more obsequious uncle Hamdi (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç) seeks to defuse the situation by sending his nephew to seek forgiveness from the landlord, who forces the child to kiss Aydin’s hand in a humiliating ritual demonstrating the power that he is not reluctant to casually exercise.
(Turkish and English with subtitles; 196 min.; scope)
Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market
Opens Fri., Dec. 19
5 out of 5 stars
The 2014 Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize deservedly went to “Mommy,” a uniquely vivid, high-octane film written, directed and produced by French-Canadian Xavier Dolan (“Tom at the Farm”), a 25-year-old filmmaking prodigy who remarkably already had under his belt three other films that premiered at Cannes (“Laurence Anyways,” “Heartbeats,” “I Killed My Mother”). Pointedly, “Mommy” shared the Jury Prize with “Goodbye to Language,” the latest film by legendary French-Swiss auteur Jean-Luc Godard, who at 84 years is Dolan’s elder by a whopping 59 years.
One could surmise that Godard, the cinematic pioneer who ushered in the French New Wave with 1960’s groundbreaking “Breathless,” might be impressed by young Dolan’s directorial command. The engrossing mise-en-scène of “Mommy” is enhanced by assured stylistic flourishes including the adept application of quick-cutting montage sequences contrasted with slow-motion shots. Dolan’s overall fast pacing is fueled by a lively and striking soundtrack.
French-Canadian actress Ann Dorval (a regular Dolan player in “Laurence Anyways,” “Heartbeats” and “I Killed My Mother”) and teenage actor Antoine-Olivier Pilon deliver intoxicating performances as Diane (a.k.a. “Die”) and her son Steve, both of whom have a psychologically complicated relationship that reveals itself to be probably too close to be healthy. Die, a widow and single mother, loves her ADHD-addled adolescent boy, but he proves to be more than she can handle after his escalating violent acts.
They reside in what the movie describes as a “fictional Canada,” a science fiction world set in 2015 in which new legislation eases the process of enabling a parent to institutionalize a child. An opening sequence shows Steve setting fire to his juvenile detention center, which badly burns a fellow juvenile delinquent, so he is expelled and must return home. Low-key neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clément from Dolan’s “Laurence Anyways” and “I Killed My Mother”), a teacher on medical leave because of her severe stuttering, unexpectedly proves to be a calming influence on both mother and son, which also benefits her own recovery.
French-Canadian director of photography André Turpin’s glowing cinematography is exquisitely placed mostly within a non-standard, square 1:1 aspect ratio that is far narrower than the regular 1.85:1 and scope 2.35:1 aspect ratios in modern movie theaters. Dolan and Turpin’s frame, which is even more compact than the old Academy aspect ratio typical in the first half of the 20th century, further compresses the constricted world inhabited by the troubled characters on screen, particularly in close-ups where they are left with nowhere to hide.
“Mommy,” Canada’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, is a leading contender for an Oscar nomination.
(French and English with subtitles; 139 min.)
Opens in January
4.5 out of 5 stars
British writer-director Mike Leigh’s sensational “Mr. Turner” is a stirring portrait of prolific British painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), by most accounts a peculiar artistic genius loved by some, hated by others. Though largely serious in tone, “Mr. Turner” is pretty easy to digest, certainly more accessible for most audiences than some of Leigh’s more depressing films, such as “Naked.”
The profound biopic lives and breathes through the larger-than-life portrayal of Turner by vivacious British actor Timothy Spall (who was also previously stunning when he starred in Leigh’s 1996 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner “Secrets & Lies”). His highly acclaimed performance ran away with the Best Actor prize at Cannes in 2014.
British director of photography Dick Pope’s first foray into digital cinematography with Leigh turns out to be an extremely effective medium to convey the luminous paintings of Turner, popularly dubbed “the painter of light.” His artistic advances depicting light, color and motion — decades before the birth of motion pictures in the late 19th century — could be retrospectively described as cinematic in nature.
“Mr. Turner” covers the last third of Turner’s life, beginning when he is 51 years old in 1826. Though Turner led a nomadic existence, the smart script focuses on his personal relationships, mostly at home in England. He deeply mourns the passing away of his close father William Turner (finely played by Paul Jesson), a former barber who had abandoned his razors and scissors to serve as his son’s assistant.
The painter’s studio and gallery occupy his townhouse in London, maintained by Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson), his loving housekeeper and sometimes sexual partner who maintains her loyalty to Turner despite his general indifference to her. Unbeknownst to Hannah, Turner also leads a private second life living in Chelsea with the widow Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey). Complicating the mix at times is Hannah’s aunt Sarah Danby (Ruth Sheen), Turner’s secret former lover and mother of his two illegitimate children.
“Mr. Turner” is Leigh’s third period piece (in addition to “Vera Drake” and “Topsy-Turvy”) out of his consistently excellent body of work spanning 12 features. Leigh gets all the details right in “Mr. Turner,” supported with authentic work by a top-notch team of department heads, notably production design by Suzie Davies, art direction by Dan Taylor, set decoration by Charlotte Watts and costume design by Jacqueline Durran.
(English; 149 min.; scope)
Opens Thu., Dec. 25
5 out of 5 stars
Freer’s 19th Annual Iranian Film Festival
The perennially popular 19th annual Iranian Film Festival at the Freer Gallery of Art kicks off with Mohammad Rasoulof’s “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” (Fri., Jan. 9, 7 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 11, 2 p.m.); Shahram Mokri’s “Fish & Cat”(Fri., Jan. 16, 7 p.m. with Mokri in person; Sun., Jan. 18, 2 p.m.); Safi Yazdanian’s “What’s the Time in Your World?” (Fri., Jan. 23, 7 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 25, 2 p.m.); and Behnam Behzadi’s “Bending the Rules” (Fri., Jan. 20, 7 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 1, 2 p.m.).
(202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp
AFI Silver Theatre
Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund appears in person to discuss a special showing of “Force Majeure” (Thu., Jan. 15, 7:15 p.m.), Un Certain Regard Jury Prize winner at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and Sweden’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.n.
(301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/silver
The Washington Jewish Film Festival Year-Round Screenings at the DCJCC include Israel’s “A Place in Heaven” (Tue., Jan.. 6, 7:30 p.m.) and the American documentary “Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not Be Silent” (Tue., Jan. 20, 7:30 p.m.), about the German rabbi, Zionist and Nazi critic who fled Berlin in 1937 for the United States, where he worked as an activist in the American civil rights movement.
Landmark’s Bethesda Row
January’s filmed opera screening boasts opera director Laurent Pelly ‘s late 2014 Royal Opera House production of Donizetti’s romantic comedy “L’Elisir D’Amore” (Sun., Jan. 18, 11 a.m.).