ISTANBUL — “Winter Sleep” the deeply felt new film by the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, took the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and has been hailed by critics, who say it cements his place as one of the most important auteurs working today.Like his work, Mr. Ceylan can be reticent and introspective. In a recent interview here, he grew most animated at the observation that the film — which is at once sweeping and interior, with landscapes reminiscent of westerns and intense Bergman-esque dialogue — was almost impossible to describe.“I cannot tell what it is about,” Mr. Ceylan (pronounced ZHAY-lan) said over tea with his wife on a gray day here in the apartment he uses as an office. “It’s about life,” he said. “My films are mostly about humans, trying to understand human relations. The story, or what’s happening, is not that important.”Based on two Chekhov works and set in a rural Anatolian hotel in winter, “Winter Sleep” centers on Aydin, a retired actor whose name in Turkish means “enlightened intellectual,” and Nihal, his beautiful younger wife, who have moved to a hotel he has inherited. The film, which opened in New York on Friday and will open nationwide on Jan. 16, stars Haluk Bilginer as the alternately compassionate and arrogant husband, Melisa Sozen as his kind, frustrated spouse, and Demet Akbag, a regular in Turkish comedies, as Aydin’s divorced sister.CreditMathias Depardon for The New York TimesThe film begins with an act of vengeance: a boy throwing a rock through a car window. His family owes rent to Aydin, but the prime wage earner, played with seething fury by Nejat Isler, has been jailed. Other social issues play out in the background; Nihal wants to raise money to help improve the local schools. Aydin, who spends his days writing pompous editorials for the local paper, thinks she is wasting her time.The film’s title in Turkish means “hibernation,” and the story unfolds slowly and unexpectedly, like a novel, over more than three hours. It touches on themes Mr. Ceylan has explored in previous films — the divides between rural and urban Turkey, the working class and the intelligentsia, religion and secularism; as well as honor, pride, morality and the ways we are and are not able to express love. (Mr. Ceylan’s films are deliberately paced and carefully framed, qualities that have left some critics cold.)Building on Mr. Ceylan’s breakthrough film, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2011, “Winter Sleep” adds a deeper register to the director’s work. “This really moved him into another place creatively,” said Sheryl Mousley, curator of film and video at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which recently held a retrospective of his films. “It sometimes takes three hours to unravel a story as simple and complex as this one.”Aydin and Nihal’s arguments are the product of intense collaboration between Mr. Ceylan 55, and Ebru Ceylan 38 his wife, who together wrote the screenplay, as they did for “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” and “Climates” Mr. Ceylan’s 2006 film, in which they starred as a couple whose relationship unravels.The director and writer met by chance in an Istanbul cafe when she was 19 and already a fan of his work, and they now have two children. They spent six months writing “Winter Sleep.” At first he wanted more literary dialogue. But Ms. Ceylan pushed for a more conversational tone. “She was right,” Mr. Ceylan said.In conversation she comes across as more forceful and he more subdued. Sometimes they shared a laugh. “He’s a very difficult director in every aspect,” Ms. Ceylan said, speaking in Turkish through a translator. “He’s a perfectionist.”“She wants the first draft to be accepted,” Mr. Ceylan added in English, smiling. “It’s not like that in cinema.”For 15 years, Mr. Ceylan said, he had wanted to make a film based on the Chekhov stories “The Wife” and “Excellent People,” but until the success of “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” which was also based on Chekhov, he lacked the confidence to tackle it.Ms. Ceylan added that whenever she reread “The Wife,” she cried. “It’s a story that touches depths of feelings and emotions that have hardly been touched before,” she said. “Things that are experienced between two people but seem impossible to explain.”Mr. Ceylan began his career as a photographer, and his early films were self-financed and featured his relatives and close friends with whom he felt comfortable working. He calls those works his “learning period.” Then his 2002 film, “Uzak” (“Distant”), was selected for Cannes.It starred his cousin Mehmet Emin Toprak as a man who moves from his rural hometown to Istanbul in the dead of winter to seek work and live with a relative. Mr. Toprak died in a car accident before the 2003 festival, where he won a best actor award posthumously. “It was terrible,” Mr. Ceylan said.That film definitively put Mr. Ceylan on the map, said Jean-Michel Frodon, a critic for the French edition of Slate and a former editor of Cahiers du Cinéma. Being a Cannes regular — Mr. Ceylan won the best director prize there for “Three Monkeys” in 2008 — “commonly leads to the highest award that he got this year,” Mr. Frodon added.For the “Winter Sleep” premiere at Cannes, Mr. Ceylan and his cast walked the red carpet wearing black ribbons in solidarity with victims of a mining accident in Turkey. He dedicated his Palme d’Or for that film to “the young people in Turkey and those who lost their lives in the last year,” an implicit reference to both the miners and those involved in the 2013 Gezi Park anti-government uprisings in Istanbul. “It was a tragic year, it was a complicated year,” he said in the interview.“Winter Sleep,” which cost 3 million euros ($3.7 million) and received financing from the Turkish government as well as the French production company Memento Films, is not overtly political but does address social issues.“Ceylan’s value lies in his ability to turn these personal stories into some sort of a grand narrative that hints something about the whereabouts of the country,” said Firat Yucel, editor in chief of the Turkish film magazine Altyazi. “For us, living in an enormously patriarchal country, they lack politics,” he added about the films.Mr. Ceylan said his work rides on subtleties. “The ambiguous is part of life — that’s the thing it’s worth making movies for,” he said. He is dismissive of Hollywood conventions that involve neatly packaged lessons. “They want a life coach,” he said. “I’m just trying to show life as I feel it.”Back in his office, as the tea grew cold, Mr. Ceylan said he hoped that “Winter Sleep” would inspire in viewers “the same kind of feeling that I feel when I read Chekhov, which is a kind of melancholy. But in this melancholy, life seems a more meaningful place.”