By Michael Roddy
CANNES France (Reuters) - Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan says his film "Winter Sleep" dealing with the huge divide between rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless in modern day Turkey is not based on current events, but is meant to teach his country a lesson.
Ceylan's film lasting three hours and 16 minutes has received some of the best reviews of any film shown so far at Cannes, with the French newspaper Le Monde calling it "magnificent".
Despite its setting in the vast Anatolian steppe, the atmosphere is almost claustrophobic as it shows a rich man and former actor named Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) who uses his intellect and position to bully his tenants and beat his wife and sister into intellectual submission.
But Ceylan said his portrayal of abuse of power - by a man obsessed with his own pride - is based on tales from Chekhov, and was not inspired by recent events in Istanbul where people rioted over the planned development of a popular city square.
"Of course Turkey is a country where there are many problems ... every day you come up with another big issue. The artist doesn't have a lack of subject matter," Ceylan told Reuters on Saturday, the day after the premiere of his film.
"In this climate some directors or writers like to deal directly with these problems and some of them deal with that indirectly. I personally don't like very much to deal with the social matters but what I deal with are the inner worlds of the people."
What he does hope is that this film, among the favorites to win the Cannes Film Festival's top Palme d'Or prize, will teach his countrymen a sense of shame, and responsibility.
In Turkey, he said, "there is a lack of this, the culture of confession and also and the potential of shame ... For instance, in Japan if there's a big accident the minister takes personal responsibility.
"I think as an artist I should develop these kinds of humanistic and individualistic properties."
NO SHORT CUTS
Ceylan, who has made more than a half dozen films and won a best director prize at Cannes in 2008 for "Three Monkeys", said he used to indulge his love of film as a young man when he worked as a waiter in London's rough-and-tumble Brixton area.
Waitering in the evening, he would go to a cinema near the King's Cross railway station during the day.
"I don't think it's there now, but I used to watch two or three films a day," he said.
So he is perfectly aware that a film running more than three hours is not the cinematic norm, but "Winter Sleep" is full of so many references, to Shakespeare, to religion, to music, and to showing the evolving inter-relationships among his characters, that he couldn't make it shorter.
"It was four-and-a-half hours at the beginning so I cut until this but I couldn't cut it further because everything is connected to each other," he said.
He also said the haunting passages from Schubert's A major piano sonata played by pianist Alfred Brendel that recur throughout the movie were not his first choice for the film, but they fit the way the film works.
"I didn't want it because it's so famous but it was suitable," he said.
"In a short time it creates an effect and also the piece has many variations in itself ... you don't have to use always the same parts, there are many parts which are similar but still different. That was it."
(Reporting by Michael Roddy; Editing by Sophie Hares)