The prestigious Cannes International Film Festival kicked off last week with the usual pomp and glamour.
Amongst offerings from all over the world, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has returned with another critically-acclaimed drama, Winter Sleep. We give you a quick overview of Turkish cinema and Ceylan’s work so far, before offering up our pick of the films at Cannes.
Turkey’s cinematic history is long and varied, with the two decades known as the Yesilcam Period following the 1950s proving particularly fruitful. During this time Turkey became one of the world’s biggest film producers, before plummeting into oblivion during the 70s and 80s due to economic and political instability.
However, the last 20 years has seen Turkish cinema go through a second renaissance.
Since the mid 1990s the number of quality popular films produced and directed in Turkey has risen steeply, with arthouse cinema as well as mainstream commercial films garnering international praise.
Turkish arthouse cinema generally embraces minimalism in every facet of filmmaking, from sets to dialogue. Heavy on symbolism and atmosphere, directors such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Zeki Demirkubuz, Semih Kaplanoglu, Yesim Ustaoglu, Reha Erdem and Dervis Zaim draw on ordinary life to illustrate big themes like nostalgia, displacement and discord.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Possibly Turkey’s most acclaimed director, 55-year-old Ceylan is returning to Cannes this year with his film Winter Sleep. Ceylan writes, produces and directs his films, usually with a very low budget and starring diamond-in-the-rough actors and family members. Favouring aestheticism and that very Turkish minimalist style, Ceylan’s characters are ordinary people caught up in ordinary situations - that somehow become extraordinary. Ceylan’s first short film, Cocoon, was nominated for a Palme d’Or for best short film in 1995. Since then, the director’s gone from strength to strength with critically acclaimed films like Once Upon a Time in Anatolia creating waves around the cinematic world.
Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is a wealthy landlord and hotelier with delusions of grandeur and dreams of gaining fame as a writer. He lives with his divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag) and his embattled wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen). Aydin is a complex character, and one whose cheerful exterior doesn’t quite contain the opportunistic, cynical man who lurks close to the surface.
The film is a slow burner, with unhurried scenes and spare dialogue. However, the stunning imagery and cinematic prowess of the Turkish film will grasp audiences from the opening sequence.
Some of the best parts of the film come from peripheral characters, whose storylines appear briefly as vignettes. Winter Sleep is a film where nothing happens, where everything happens. Where ideas shift and change and realisations dawn, and a new world emerges after a long, cold winter’s sleep.
Cannes 2014 - the best and worst
Since its inception in 1946, Cannes has built its reputation on previewing films of all genres from all around the world, all competing for the coveted Palme d'Or prize. Here, we give you a rundown of the films to watch - and the ones to avoid - at this year’s festival.
Mike Leigh’s biopic features the wonderful Timothy Spall as 19th century artist Turner. Leigh’s known for his near obsessive attention to detail and social commentary and he manages to do this wonderfully in Mr Turner while giving audiences a detailed look at Turner’s 25 final years. Spall plays Turner with energy and passion, while the ensemble cast features some illustrious stalwarts of British cinema.
Mauritian director Abderrahmane Sissako is tipped to be a front runner with this fictional, yet disturbingly real, account of the Islamisation of Mali. The African country has seen ordinary lives destroyed by squads of extremist Islamic police monitoring every move. From the trivial (men must wear socks) to the extreme (death by stoning), the film is moving, powerful, and defiant. Sissako gets his message across with dark humour, imagination and grace.
Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is no stranger to Cannes, having won awards here before, most recently the Best Film award in 2011 for the incredible Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Winter Sleep is set in a remote region of Turkey and is a stunning, dark story of a landlord and hotelier who dreams of being more. This psychologically challenging character study is difficult to watch but extremely compelling.
Grace of Monaco
Forty six-year-old Kidman plays 32-year-old movie-star-turned-princess Grace Kelly in this clear contender for ‘worst film of the year.’ Grace of Monaco portrays Kelly in 1962 when Monaco faced a blockade from France, who were threatening to use the principality’s funds to finance the Algerian War. Kelly threw her weight behind Monaco and, according to the film, saved the day for the principality, ensuring millionnaires a safe tax haven forever more. As Kelly, Kidman’s features are perma-frozen into a startled, Bambi stare. Extreme close ups do nothing except highlight the immobility of her face.
Taking a difficult subject matter - child abduction - and turning it into a watchable detective drama is always going to be a challenge, but it’s one that Canadian director Atom Egoyan has embraced. The Captive stars Rosario Dawson as a cop, and Ryan Reynolds as the father of the missing girl. This thriller with an arthouse twist is a strong effort from a director known for his punchy and dark dramas like The Sweet Hereafter.
The Blue Room
Workaholic actor-director Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum of Solace) is back and directing and starring in this classic French thriller. The tale of small-town adultery, doomed lovers and guilt is arty, erotic, dark and very French, with a gripping, modern narrative and a suspenseful score.
Directed by three unknowns (Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis), this slice of realist French cinema becomes intriguing when you realise that protagonist Angelique Litzenburger, a 60-year-old who plunges herself into late night, champagne-soaked world of club hostessing, is playing herself, is the mother of director Theis, and that her family members are also playing themselves, turning this lively drama into a compelling existential film.
Check back on May 24 for this year’s winning films.
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