Kaya Genç on Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep
It is not so difficult for me to shrink the list of this year’s best films so far to two works: Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep, and Richard Ayoade’s The Double, and between them to ask—somewhat George Steineresqually—“Chekhov or Dostoyevsky’s?” The former film, Winter’s Sleep was adapted from Chekhov’s short stories “Excellent People” and “The Wife”, and The Double is based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s story of the same title. Two intense films about intense men, and it isn’t easy to choose between the two.
Of course, Steiner’s original question features Tolstoy instead of Chekhov, but somehow it seems that Tolstoy’s books tend not to work in the world of cinema where adaptations of Russian novelists are easily found but are not always satisfactory. Who was not disillusioned by Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, when it was released in 2012? I yawned throughout the film, despite the newness of Tom Stoppard’s script, the dazzling cinematography, and the facial expression of Keira Knightley which I often find gripping. The film, and its actors, were too perfect, too glorious, too spectacular. I like my film mildly modest, strongly personal and definitely idiosyncratic. Anna Karenina was none of those.
Last month, after seeing Winter Sleep (which, by the way, is this year’s Palme d’Or winner) and The Double (a favorite among most of my nerd friends not least because its leading actor has an uncanny resemblance to Mark Zuckerberg) the same day in a Istanbul cinema, I got more than I asked for: two modest, strongly personal and idiosyncratic films with no ambitions to become mainstream and an inclination to eccentricity. Who cares for the benevolent, non-personal, all-seeing eye of Tolstoy (and of Hollywood, for that matter) when you have writers and filmmakers who can adjust their POVs to such eccentric characters as the wealthy, retired Turkish theatre actor Aydın who wastes away his life typing condescending newspaper columns into his MacBook Pro at his family villa in Cappadocia? And The Double's Simon, although not the subject of this essay, is so powerful in his insignificance and his ressentiment against others, that I can't help but feel glad about Ayoade's choice to approach him subjectively through Simon's own consciousness rather than that of a detached, and sagely, observer.
The hero of Winter Sleep, Aydın (“enlightened intellectual” in Turkish, and the name of a city in Turkey’s Aegean Region) is a composite of two Chekhov characters. He is more largely based, I think, on Pavel Andreitch, the protagonist of “The Wife”, the story in which Andreitch’s efforts at writing a “History of Railways” is disrupted when he receives an anonymous letter asking for financial help for peasants in a nearby village. In Ceylan’s film, Aydın, the retired actor, runs a playfully named Hotel Othello and seems to do nothing beside write columns for a local newspaper and plan a work on the “History of Turkish Theatre”.
George Orwell was concerned that the working class would think books were too expensive, preferring to buy cigarettes. Kaya Genc wonders if the price of a latte has a similar effect on ebooks.
With the new LARB membership, you won’t have to choose. For the price of one latte a month, we will offer you exclusive print content and discounts at independent bookstores. You can have your latte, and read too.
My piece was featured in The Hannah Arendt Center Amor Mundi Weekly Newsletter on July 27, 2014.
I wrote an appreciation of Andrew Mango (“Turkey’s champion”) for The Guardian.