After his highly acclaimed Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan returns to Cannes – and to Anatolia – with his much anticipated Winter Sleep, an epic movie in many ways, most notably for its running time of 3 hours and 16 minutes. Could it live up to the hype? The answer is yes, though not unequivocally so.

The story revolves around Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), a handsome former actor running the Hotel Othello. He lives with his beautiful, much younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sozen) and his sister Necla (Demet Akbag). On the surface Aydin appears to be charming, busy and reluctant to fulfill his duties as landlord, for he owns many of the properties near the hotel. One tardy rent payer is Ismail (Nejat Isler), a man who’s been in trouble with the law and with the booze. His house is in disarray, with airplane seats and piles of junk littering his garden. The reason Aydin and Hidayet are here is not to collect rent, but to deposit Ismael’s son, who has chucked a stone at Aydin’s jeep. Debt collectors have been round, taking the fridge and the telly, and have roughed up Ismael. The boy seeks revenge on the man he views responsible and he is one of the few characters in the film to remain true to their principles. It is also thanks to his child’s actions that Ismael later manages to salvage some of his own dignity.

Back at home, Aydin spends much of his time locked in his study, his recently divorced sister lounging on the sofa behind him, whilst his wife is conspicuous by her absence. In fact, each member of this unhappy household lives in a separate part of the house, separated not just by walls, but by misunderstandings, jealousies and disappointment. There is a distinctly Chekovian atmosphere, the three principal characters locked away on their unhappy estate, dreaming of going to Istanbul as they fritter their lives away inconsequentially. Aydin is unaware of the pain he inflicts, and it is only gradually that Ceylan unfolds the true nature of his character.

There are many long conversations that take place in half-lit rooms, which emphasises both intimacy and the smallness of these characters’ world. The vast plains and incredible natural landscape make an appearance, but this is much more about people’s entrapment within it. When Aydin decides to buy a wild Anatolian horse and have it tamed, we see an analogy with how he treats the people in his life, and his need to dominate. Ceylan does not make this film easy on the viewer and it takes a while to adapt to the pace. But once you adapt to this magical and strange Anatolian microcosm, you are happily trapped there along with these complex figures. As the snow falls, this part of the world is cut off from the outside, just as its inhabitants are ensconced in their own isolation. This is not an easy film, but it is lyrical and full of beauty and sometimes unpalatable truths.