As soon as the news of Nuri Bilge Ceylan winning the Palme d’Or reached Ankara, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul sent a telegram to the film director to congratulate him on his success, which brought “pride and happiness to the entire nation”.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also extended his congratulations to Ceylan and said that he was eager to have a conversation with the film director. There may be a thing or two the Turkish PM might want to discuss with Ceylan and it probably has nothing to do with cinema.
Indeed, on accepting the Palme d’Or for his film, Winter Sleep, from the hands of Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman, Ceylan dedicated his prize “to Turkey’s youth and to those who lost their lives” during the demonstrations against Erdogan’s government.
Ceylan’s verbal attack against Erdogan’s government was not frontal and the words were carefully chosen, however, the criticism was palpable. During his press conference at Cannes on May 17, Ceylan did not mince his words: “If it was Japan, the PM would resign. But not in Turkey.”
Last time a Turkish film won the Palme d’Or was in 1982 for Yol by Kurdish filmmaker Yilmaz Guney. Yol depicted the lives of prisoners in an oppressive Turkey, a condition Guney, who also wrote the screenplay, knew well, having been sentenced twice to lengthy periods in jail for his political activities. Having directed the film from prison by sending instructions to his assistant Serif Goren, he later escaped, found exile in Paris and was stripped of his Turkish nationality. Yol was banned from cinema screens in Turkey for 15 years.
The situation today might not be as extreme for those who dissent, however freedom of speech is still a sensitive issue for many Turkish artists. This is perhaps why [Nuri Bilge] Ceylan uses family drama as a metaphor for Turkey.
The situation today might not be as extreme for those who dissent, however freedom of speech is still a sensitive issue for many Turkish artists. This is perhaps why Ceylan uses family drama as a metaphor for Turkey.
Winter Sleep deals with the simmering tensions within a household. A retired actor who has inherited a big estate in the breathtakingly beautiful Cappaddocia and who aspires to write the first ever book on the history of Turkish theatre, is surrounded by attentive servants, an efficient and discreet general manager, an elderly sister who keeps him company in the evenings and a much younger wife who spends her spare time trying to raise money for local schools.