Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia featured image

March 2, 2012
Reviewed by Marc Glassman

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, director and co-script w/ Ercan Kesal & Ebru Ceylan
Starring: Muhammet Uzuner (Doctor Cemal), Yilmaz Erdogan (Komiser Naci), Taner Birsel (Savci Nusret), Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan (Sofor Arap Ali), Firat Tanis (Zanli Kenan), Ercan Kesal (Muhtar), Ugur Arslanoglu (Adilye Soforu Tevfik), Murat Kilic (Polis Izzet), Safak Karali (Zabit Katibi Abidin)

The buzz
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.

The genres
Murder mystery; character drama (inspired by Chekhov)

The premise
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.

The performances
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.

The direction
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’

The skinny
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.

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