Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Really going for it

I want to make my 2014 rankings as complete as possible.

And so last night I saw the Palme d'Or winner -- all three hours and 16 minutes of it -- in the theater.

The latest magnum opus by Turkish director Nuri Bigle Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) is playing at a theater near me, having released a whole six weeks before you'll get it in the U.S., so I mustered all my courage and all my sugar-filled snacks, and went.

As Winter Sleep contains only the thinnest of actual plots, and barely even any scenery changes, the whole experience feels like a messy blur of pineapple M&M's.

That's right, a big bag of this surprisingly effective new flavor of M&M's was the fuel I used to get me through the 8:25 showing, along with two Diet Cokes, a bag of store-bought popcorn and a handful of gummy worms. It still didn't quite work, as I nodded off for never more than 30 seconds or so, but regularly enough that the whole thing felt kind of like an out-of-body fever dream, only snippets of which were easily accessible to me after the movie.

Did I like the movie? Yes, quite a bit. Did it need to be nearly 200 minutes long? I don't think so, no.

In fact, Winter Sleep may be the second longest movie I have ever seen in the theater -- and one of the longest I've ever seen, period. Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur, Seven Samurai, Gettysburg, and a number of others are longer, but I haven't seen any of them in a traditional theatrical setting. Off the top of my head, the only one I'm sure was longer was The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and its numerous false endings.

It didn't feel like something that should be just a random undertaking for a random Monday night.

And I did plan out the food. But did I mentally prepare myself for Winter Sleep? Not really.

Still, I think I could have weathered it perfectly effectively had it just had a modicum of plot to follow. It starts out somewhat plot-heavy, at least by the standards of independent/foreign film. A boy throws a rock at a passing car, smashing its window, and we need to learn what prompted him to resort to this type of behavior.

But after 30 or 45 minutes, the movie really settles into a series of conversations in and around the hotel depicted in the poster above, which looks a bit like an overgrown Hobbit house and is consistently fantastic to behold. I never knew Turkey had people living in real-world hillside Hobbit holes, and now I really want to go there.

The conversations are rich and deep and always interesting. But the fact remains that they have a sprawling quality and a philosophical nature that tends to bleed them into one another. The result is that Winter Sleep feels like a river of ideas and character traits that flows over you, rather than an actual narrative film, and the effect is only exacerbated when one is in a fugue state composed of micronaps and subtitles.

I did wonder if I missed the key line of dialogue somewhere along the way that everyone would point to afterwards as the film's defining moment, but in reality, films like Winter Sleep do not have single defining moments. They achieve a cumulative impact merely by being observant and honest and ultimately heartbreaking in the truths they explore. That may not work as well for me as a more tightly structured story with more clear moments of agony and ecstasy, but I'm also very glad I saw it.

I'd like to say I wish I had set aside a better scenario for watching Winter Sleep, but really, I don't know what that would have been. The only time I have more than four hours to myself -- including transportation time -- is at night, when my stamina is bound to be challenged by the material. And I'm not going to take off a day of work to sit there and watch Winter Sleep on a Tuesday afternoon. I am perennially tired enough that even if I went to bed early four or five nights in a row to prepare for a viewing like this, I'd probably manage the reverse and become tired from getting too much sleep. When you are an adult with kids, you can never find that sweet spot of being fully rested. It may, in fact, not exist.

So I got a little sleep during Winter Sleep. Less than I could have, at least. And even if I'd had my eyes held open Clockwork Orange-style, it probably still wouldn't have been my favorite movie of the year -- and not only because I'd be in the middle of being tortured.

I will say that if anyone wants to doubt the credibility of my 2014 list and its many X-Men and Hunger Games sequels, they need only note that spot on the list where Winter Sleep ends up, and they'll know I'm serious about this shit.

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