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The Slow and Intimate Cinema of Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Internationally acclaimed Turkish Auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan has truly mastered the art of slow, poetic and metaphysical cinema that Russian Auteur Andrei Tarkovsky started. At Cannes Film Festival, Ceylan has won a variety of awards, including: the Grand Prix in 2003 for Uzak, the Fipresci prize for Climates in 2006, Best Director for Three Monkeys in 2008, the Grand Prix for Once Upon a Time In Anatolia in 2011, and the Palme d'Or for Winter Sleep in 2014.

Like Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami, Ceylan’s slow and minimalist cinematic approach avoids complex plots and focuses on life itself. Ceylan gives his viewers a more sensual and immediate cinematic experience – as opposed to adhering to a more intellectual approach that uses symbols and abstractions that would complicate the precious relationship between audience and filmmaker [1].

Both Kiarostami’s and Ceylan’s patient cinematic ethos uses boredom as an aesthetic strategy – and this manifests vis-à-vis long takes and dramatizing that creates dead time [2]. This cinematic spirit enables an aesthetic harmony that transcends ideological notions and narrative causality in order to facilitate a more contemplative and immersive cinematic experience.

Ceylan’s meditative and slow cinema creates a deeply intimate harmony between images, literature and poetry while simultaneously grappling with the rich human condition, as do the works of Tarkovsky, Kiarostami and Kieslowski — thus, these three filmmakers create an immersive blend between minimalist aesthetics and rich philosophical reflections in cinema.

This aesthetic of boredom enables the viewer to feel real time, and engage in a certain cinematic gestalt that allows the viewer not only to engage in what's being presented, but to feel as if they are present in the events taking places.

Ceylan achieves this cinematic transcendence by taking a slow and steady approach to cinema that undermines traditional narrative structures and exceptions, as does Kiarostami and Tarkovsky, and the films by all three of these auteurs have deep connection with authentic and realistic approaches to cinema, as well as a deep love for a moody, melancholic, poetic and a mediative cinematic aesthetic that disrupts traditional cinematic narratives and rhythms.

Ceylan's films grapple with complex thematic and philosophical questions that transcend traditional uninspired Hollywood commodified entertainment. In his eerie and mesmerizing 2011 film Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, Ceylan uses breathtaking long shots of gorgeous landscapes that look pristine thanks to his visual meticulousness vis-à-vis the use of the authentic cinema scope lens.

In the film, during long night drives, men have lengthy discussions about bureaucracy, suffering, love, death and the absurdity of life, and while these conversations are assuming form, Ceylan adds atmospheric landscapes and eerie sound effects to the mix, thus creating a cinematic experience that one can not forget easily.

Ceylan's cinematic approach here is more emotionally effective and riveting than almost all his counterparts in Western and Eastern cinema alike. Ceylan's use of crisp visuals and meticulous sound design creates a certain aesthetic harmony that takes incredible patience to achieve; and these cinematic techniques ultimately leaves the viewer mesmerized in a alluring cinematic experience that takes elements of high art such as Dostoevsky and epic classical scores and combines them with immersive and carefully crafted cinematography and dialogue that slows down time and mixes the real with the imaginary.

Though his films may seem "boring" on the surface, they linger in memory for years to come, unlike most films who may seem engaging at first, but don't leave a lasting effect on the viewer.

In Ceylan's 2014 Palme d'Or winner and Magnum Opus Winter's Sleep, Ceylan grapples with many dense themes, such as money, religion and its relationship to capitalism, and the role of symbolic exchange [3].

Like Anatolia, the film is complimented by epic cinematography and score, but has more of a play like feel to it, as it often evokes Chekhov, Shakespeare and some Dostoyevsky.

Ceylan takes a sort of melodramatic approach that mixes low art soap opera styles with high art literary exercises that underline the beauty of civilization and language while simultaneously challenging the viewers moral and ideological convections.

The highly ambitious film is a dazzling exercise that unravels various themes that create a lingering mood of melancholy and pessimism that are complemented with beautiful interior shots of warm Turkish landscapes.

The use of Music in Ceylan's chef d'oeuvre is also notable —as Ceylan only employs five minutes of music to complement the epic landscapes and dialogue unfolding before our very eyes. To expand, Schubert’s A-major Piano Sonata no. 20, Andantino, is repeated in intimate moments suggesting the main character’s Bildung and introspection [4].
As the film progresses, the music holds an increased narrative weight; thus the repetition and accumulation creates a common narrative that exposes traditional European bourgeois values in a Turkish household that intensifies an emotional-narrative arc but also adds a critical dimension to dialogue and visual storytelling.

The thematic composition of the film is highly postmodern — in the sense that it portrays the complicated cultural logics of late capitalism that reflect the pragmatics of the community-society dichotomy and represents the arbitrary duality circulating in a modern world of isolation and belonging in typical Chekhovian fashion[5].

Ceylan peals back these layers of drama with a certain precision that allows for audience contemplation and immersion through a mix of long sequences that contain both argumentation and silence.

Both Anatolia and Winter's Sleep are examples cinema at its purest. Both achieve a certain cinematic transcendence through a seamless weaving of complex dialogue, breathtaking visual images, and personal existential and nihilistic reflections that suddenly enable bildungsroman's.

Ceylan is one of the masters of slow cinema, along with Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman and Abbas Kiarostami. They all achieve a certain simplicity in cinema that is hard to explain or express.

They all truly engage in a transcendent and slow cinema that challenge traditional Hollywood notions of boredom, thus, they are returning cinema to its purest form. They are using postmodern elements to challenge modernity, thus, they are creatively using boredom as an aesthetic.


[1]"Sensuous" Approach to the Cinema of Nuri Bilge Ceylan: Principles of Embodied Film Experience Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Media Studies, Cinema Studies.

[2] Çaglayan, Emre. "The Aesthetics of Boredom: Slow Cinema and the Virtues of the Long Take in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia." Projections 10, no. 1 (2016): 63-85.

[3] Diken, Bülent. "Money, Religion, and Symbolic Exchange in Winter Sleep." Religion and Society 8, no. 1 (2017): 94-108.

[4] Hart, Heidi. "Accumulating Schubert: Music and Narrative in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep." In Music, Narrative and the Moving Image, pp. 107-113. Brill Rodopi, 2019.

[5] Erincmen Kanoglu, Meltem. "Tönnies's Community-Society Dichotomy in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep as a Means of Belonging and Isolation." Global Media Journal: Turkish Edition 8, no. 15 (2017).

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