Sunday, 27 July 2014

NZIFF Review - Winter Sleep, Kumiko The Treasure Hunter

NZIFF Review - Winter Sleep, Kumiko The Treasure Hunter

The Palme D'Or winner Winter Sleep weighs in at a massive 196 minutes, meaning the first real true test of the festival.

But to be frank, this epic doesn't feel like a challenge to your backside at all. From the director of Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, it's set in the mountain regions of Cappadocia and is the tale of an ageing actor, Aydin, rich in money, rich in time and poor in relationships, thanks to his disconnectedness. When a boy hurls a stone at his window as he's out driving one day, it appears the act is a random one initially. But the boy is related to one of his tenants, whom he's never met, but whose family is unable to pay the rent.

As the ripples of this small action spread like a stone skimming the surface of the water, Aydin comes to re-examine his life, the implications of his actions and the possibilities ahead.

Winter Sleep is a languid treat to wallow in. From the simmering tension and resentment between Aydin, his wife, the tenants and those around him, director Nuri Bilge Ceylan constructs a piece that is centered all around language, long conversations and small interactions. Everything has a perfectly timed structure and ultimately, you feel overwhelmed by the minutiae of day to day life as this opus unspools. It's a reminder that human life needs connections and that without these, locked away as Aydin is, perspective is lost only until it's far too late to try and regain it.

Kumiko The Treasure Hunter finds itself obsessed with Fargo and never lets up.

It's the apparently urban legend of Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a young Japanese girl who works soullessly for a company that sees her daily strength and will to live being sapped. But keeping her alive is a daily viewing of a video tape of Fargo, the Coen Brothers classic which she pores over and tries to ascertain where the buried treasure may be kept.

Finally reaching snapping point within her work life and the over-bearing phonecalls from her mother enquiring about promotions or personal life, Kumiko makes off with the company credit card and heads to America to find the treasure buried by Steve Buscemi's character in the snow of Dakota.

Once the put upon Kumiko is free to roam, she finds that the Americans of Dakota are as oddball as the inhabitants of the film; from the people who meet her at the airport and try to get her into religion, to the bus driver with carpal tunnel syndrome who's unable to change a tyre, they're all here on display.

But in among the oddness and goofy moments, there's a small vein of sadness running through this piece, which has pathos and hints of tragedy. Kumiko is a sad figure, and while there's no attempts at using this for comic effect, the overall feeling is one of sympathetic frustration as the story plays out. There's a humour here, but it's a bittersweet one and it's one that makes you question whether Kumiko's on the verge of a breakdown rather than a genuine acceptance of her limitations.

Kikuchi plays Kumiko with an earnestness and a bowed head that sees you on her side from the moment the journey begins. As eccentric and as bedraggled as she becomes, you never lose faith in the quest in among the beautifully cinematography which makes the most of the conditions around Kumiko - from vast shots of ice to blasts of cold ice wind blowing across the roads, it's almost like the chill jumps off the screen.

Quiet and quirky, Kumiko The Treasure Hunter is a hidden treasure within the programme worth seeking out.


  1. Love your thoughts on that complex line that Kumiko plays between humour and tragedy. I think "bittersweet" nails it. There's hints of fantasy in the reality of the narrative building towards that incredible coda which is so - strangely - uplifting.

  2. Thanks - I couldn't quite tell whether it was a breakdown in some ways or something else. Particularly the final sequence, which seems to suggest a break in reality.