There could hardly have been a bigger cinematic tent than the
Palais des Festivals venue in the Mediterranean seaside town
where "How to Train Your Dragon 2" got a special screening
alongside Turkish director Nuri Ceylan's masterly competition
entry "Winter Sleep" about an intellectual bully who runs a
"Hotel Othello" in the snowswept Anatolian steppe.
The one brought Hollywood glamour, even of the animated variety,
to a festival that is a bit short on that front. Fans wearing
Viking helmets with huge horns meandered across La Croisette,
Cannes's palm-lined boulevard, ahead of the film's global
premiere on Friday night at the festival.
Cannes-regular Ceylan's searing study of a former actor
convinced he is always in the right took its time to unfurl to a
gripping climax, played out in a snowstorm, in a film that is a
strong favorite to win the Palme d'Or on May 24.
"Master at his work again, he is truly the most contemporary
master I have ever seen," said film critic Sunil Doshi of the
Indian newspaper The Mint, who was among the packed cinema
audience who gave the film a standing ovation.
"It's amazing, just awesome."
The audience response to the film by Ceylan, who won a best
director award at Cannes in 2008 for his "Three Monkeys", came a
day after British director Mike Leigh's "Mr Turner", based on
the life of the pre-Impressionist English painter JMW Turner,
got a resounding rave from critics.
Those two films helped to balance a negative critical and
audience response to the festival's opening film, "Grace of
Monaco" starring Nicole Kidman as the American actress Grace
Kelly who married Prince Rainier of Monaco.
Another competition entry, Canadian director Atom Egoyan's "The
Captive", tackling the dark topic of pedophilia, also got a
lukewarm welcome at a screening hours before "Winter Sleep".
HIDES BEHIND LAWYERS, WEALTH
In Ceylan's film, Haluk Bilginer plays Aydin, a once-successful
actor on the Turkish stage one of whose fondest memories is
having been praised by and had his photo taken with the Egyptian
actor Omar Sharif.
He has retired to run a hotel in the Anatolian steppe, a
landscape of stark, silo-like rock outcroppings and severe
winters, where he lives with his young wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen)
and his sister Necla (Demet Akbag).
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He battles both of them into intellectual submission by posing as a
man of principle who writes a column for a local newspaper defending
the importance of faith, even though he never goes to mosque, and
insisting on having the last word in an argument.
Meanwhile, the lawyers and debt collectors he has hired based on the
property wealth inherited from his father repossess the television
of a tenant family whose rent has fallen into arrears, prompting the
family's young son to throw a rock through his car window.
Buffered from the reality of his meanness and stinginess, Aydin sees
it as no big deal that the family should pay what for them is an
enormous sum of money for the repair.
It is a pattern throughout the movie, that culminates when it comes
out late in the film that rather than let victims of an earthquake
stay at his hotel when they needed shelter, he only let in aid
workers whose agencies would pay.
"'Conscience' is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to
keep the strong in awe," a teacher says, quoting from Shakespeare's
"Richard III" as he takes issue with Aydin's presentation of himself
as a man of principle and conscience during a drunken dinner.
Ceylan's film is beautifully and atmospherically filmed, with a
soundtrack featuring repeated use of a theme from Schubert's
haunting A major sonata played by Alfred Brendel.
(Writing by Michael Roddy, Editing by Hugh Lawson)
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