March 2, 2012
Reviewed by Marc Glassman
The latest film by festival darling Nuri Bilge Ceylan won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2011 and was Turkey’s pick for this year’s Oscars. Turkish auteur Ceylan is the most acclaimed director in his country’s history. He practically owns Cannes, the most prestigious festival in the world. Distant, his third feature, won the Grand Prix and Best Actor awards there; Climates won Cannes’ FIPRESCI prize while Three Monkeys (2008) garnered him the Best Director Award.
Murder mystery; character drama (inspired by Chekhov)
One rainy evening, a group of people drives out to the mountainous plains of Anatolia to find the body of a murdered man. In the cars are policemen, two suspects, a doctor and a prosecutor. Kenan and his brother have confessed to the crime but can’t remember where they’ve buried the body in terrain that is unfamiliar to them. They were drunk when the crime was committed, which only adds to the confusion.
Over the course of a night filled with fruitless chases, the doctor, chief policeman and prosecutor talk about love, death, yoghurt and whether Turkey should join the European Union. They have dinner with a local mayor and are served drinks by his beautiful daughter.
Eventually, Kenan leads them to the right spot and the murdered man, along with the entourage, return home.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a director obsessed with philosophy and a desire to arrange his characters in quietly beautiful photographic compositions.
Performances in his films are muted; that’s his style. Still, Muhammet Uzuner (Doctor Cemal), Yilmaz Erdogan (Komiser—head policeman– Naci) and Taner Birsel (Prosecutor Savci Nusret) deliver their lines brilliantly and make you believe in their characters’ dilemmas. And that’s acting.
Ceylan is a throwback to the great European modernists who created the great art cinema of the ‘50s and ‘60s. He reminds one of Michelangelo Antonioni, the cool minimalist, who dramatized the ennui of upper middle class Italians. He emphasizes the loneliness of his characters and how they deal with their problems.
Pictorially, he’s wonderful, creating gorgeous images and devising scripts that are perfect for his needs’
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a slow-moving philosophic mystery story. This is a beautiful film for film scholars and buff. But it will never be successful in Canada despite the protestations of auteur supporters.