We caught up with Nuri Bilge Ceylan, director of WINTER SLEEP…

WINTER SLEEP won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and is released in Irish cinemas this week. We caught up with the film’s director and co-screenwriter Nuri Bilge Ceylan to find out more about his beautifully engaging film, which has been selected as the Turkish entry at next year’s Oscars.

Can you tell us more about the film’s dialogue; was it all scripted or did you allow the actors to improvise?
Nuri Bilge Ceylan: The starting point for the film is short stories by Chekov. There is a lot of dialogue in the film; you have texts from Chekov and from the script writer. It’s a film with a lot of dialogue, so I wanted to have real professionals, because I think that even if the dialogue is quite heavy, with amateur actors it could have been quite difficult to carry this dialogue. That’s why I wanted to work with real professionals.

The dialogue is not only wonderful, but it is copious. This seems to be a new direction for you, were you holding back in your previous films?
NBC: Actually I like dialogue a lot. In my first film, COCOON, I used a lot of dialogue, but it was a film we didn’t shoot live with sound, so we had some problems with that. Then I became a bit fearful of dialogue, so I avoided using too much dialogue, but I love the theatre, and in this film we did use a lot of dialogue, a lot of text. I use a lot of dialogue, but I use quite literary dialogue in this film. In literature, and in the theatre this language is widely used, but in cinema it’s quite dangerous; it may not work out well, but I try to do this in the film. In my first films I was careful to do more realistic, natural things. Now I realise that in the cinema you can use this different language; even in advertising and on television. This time I have tried to focus on more literary dialogue. It’s like Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky… What I wanted to do was see if that kind of language could work in cinema.

Did your film deliberately reference issues in Turkey at the moment?
NBC: In my film I don’t allude to the present situation in Turkey. The film was shot before everything happened, before the events in June. I don’t think that a director should allude to current events in the country. If I want to talk about the current situation, I will do it in three years’ time, but not now. Everything that happens in our country, and what happened before, can be explained when you think about human nature. As I was saying, when I make a film, I don’t think about the present situation. I believe that a director should view things in a broader perspective. I think that the duty of a film director is to focus more on the soul of the audience. In my films, sometimes I may try to give people ideas; that I view as a real success. I can nourish their soul, and audiences can learn to be ashamed of certain things. I believe a director, therefore, should work more in that direction.

The location used in the film is wonderful. How did you choose it, and did it help your story?
NBC: Actually, I didn’t want to choose this location, but I had to after location scouting. I wanted it to be a simple place, but it had to be a touristy place, because I needed a hotel that was a bit isolated outside the town. That was the only place I could find. I was a bit afraid of shooting in this location, because it could be a bit too beautiful or too interesting, but I didn’t show it that much… I hope! [laughs] I showed it in the first snow because we needed a change in the atmosphere. We needed some wide shots, psychologically. It didn’t snow enough; the snow shots were shot in a very short time, and some of them [were shot] in the east of Turkey.

There is a theme in your films about family breakdown, in this film, what was your original idea? Did Chekov come first, or was your own idea the catalyst?
NBC: The starting point of the film was several Chekov stories, but of course I wouldn’t be able to start this if I didn’t see it in real life as well. These stories written for Turkey, for me, but I cannot say that I like to film on specific subjects or things; I like more ambiguous films about life in general, which leave a kind of feeling at the end.

Is the character of Aydin autobiographical?
NBC: Aydin is partly autobiographical, but he is not me at all. I do know a lot of people who are in that situation though. There are actors in Turkey who have stopped working and have opened up hotels in little towns, so I am familiar with that kind of character, and I have friends who are like that. It’s a world I am very familiar with. It’s not exactly me, though!

The film seems to have an ironic view of the world, is this something you feel is coming through in your recent work?
NBC: I don’t know! [laughs] Actually, the writing duration was interesting in this way. We fought a lot, but it’s necessary, because fighting made the work better… Ten times better! It’s the same for me. If I cannot find these words in normal talk, but during the fights I found much better dialogue! When we fight, we do it for hours, until the morning sometimes, because each ones wants to have the last word. When I work with other people, generally, on the script, since I am more experienced in cinema they don’t say anything against me. They accept whatever I say, but because [co-writer Ebru Ceylan] is my wife, she doesn’t do so, so she has more rights [laughs], but since I am director, I make the final decision. If we work on her film, she will have the final word. In this movie, Ebru still doesn’t approve of some of the dialogue, but I insisted on it. It has to be like that. When we argue we find such interesting dialogue, and I am always after that. I say to myself ‘Why didn’t I record this!?’ but at the beginning you never know you will talk like this! [laughs]

Do you see hope for your characters?
NBC: There is as much hope in my characters as there is in real life. I don’t like to portray hope at the end of the film; that’s what some people do, they end on a note of hope. I’m not like that; I’m fairly realistic I think. Sometimes you have to be pessimistic but for me, as I said, there is as much hope as there is in real life. I wanted to make the end more ambiguous, I wanted Aydin’s wife to bear some of the burden. I tried, with the editing, to change that a little bit.

WINTER SLEEP is released in Irish cinemas on November 21st, 2014

Words: Brogen Hayes