CANNES France (Reuters) - The glitz of Hollywood and its “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise shared center stage at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday with a Turkish movie lasting more than three hours that quotes Shakespeare and uses a Schubert sonata as its theme.
There could hardly have been a bigger cinematic tent than the Palais des Festivals venue in the Mediterranean seaside town where “How to Train Your Dragon 2” got a special screening alongside Turkish director Nuri Ceylan’s masterly competition entry “Winter Sleep” about an intellectual bully who runs a “Hotel Othello” in the snowswept Anatolian steppe.
The one brought Hollywood glamour, even of the animated variety, to a festival that is a bit short on that front. Fans wearing Viking helmets with huge horns meandered across La Croisette, Cannes’s palm-lined boulevard, ahead of the film’s global premiere on Friday night at the festival.
Cannes-regular Ceylan’s searing study of a former actor convinced he is always in the right took its time to unfurl to a gripping climax, played out in a snowstorm, in a film that is a strong favorite to win the Palme d’Or on May 24.
“Master at his work again, he is truly the most contemporary master I have ever seen,” said film critic Sunil Doshi of the Indian newspaper The Mint, who was among the packed cinema audience who gave the film a standing ovation.
“It’s amazing, just awesome.”
The audience response to the film by Ceylan, who won a best director award at Cannes in 2008 for his “Three Monkeys”, came a day after British director Mike Leigh’s “Mr Turner”, based on the life of the pre-Impressionist English painter JMW Turner, got a resounding rave from critics.
Those two films helped to balance a negative critical and audience response to the festival’s opening film, “Grace of Monaco” starring Nicole Kidman as the American actress Grace Kelly who married Prince Rainier of Monaco.
Another competition entry, Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s “The Captive”, tackling the dark topic of pedophilia, also got a lukewarm welcome at a screening hours before “Winter Sleep”.
In Ceylan’s film, Haluk Bilginer plays Aydin, a once-successful actor on the Turkish stage one of whose fondest memories is having been praised by and had his photo taken with the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.
He has retired to run a hotel in the Anatolian steppe, a landscape of stark, silo-like rock outcroppings and severe winters, where he lives with his young wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen) and his sister Necla (Demet Akbag).
He battles both of them into intellectual submission by posing as a man of principle who writes a column for a local newspaper defending the importance of faith, even though he never goes to mosque, and insisting on having the last word in an argument.
Meanwhile, the lawyers and debt collectors he has hired based on the property wealth inherited from his father repossess the television of a tenant family whose rent has fallen into arrears, prompting the family’s young son to throw a rock through his car window.
Buffered from the reality of his meanness and stinginess, Aydin sees it as no big deal that the family should pay what for them is an enormous sum of money for the repair.
It is a pattern throughout the movie, that culminates when it comes out late in the film that rather than let victims of an earthquake stay at his hotel when they needed shelter, he only let in aid workers whose agencies would pay.
“‘Conscience’ is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe,” a teacher says, quoting from Shakespeare’s “Richard III” as he takes issue with Aydin’s presentation of himself as a man of principle and conscience during a drunken dinner.
Ceylan’s film is beautifully and atmospherically filmed, with a soundtrack featuring repeated use of a theme from Schubert’s haunting A major sonata played by Alfred Brendel.
Writing by Michael Roddy, Editing by Hugh Lawson