Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Through a dirty window in the night, three men are sitting among car parts, eating. This is Once Upon A Time In Anatolia. The lighting in the scene looks as though Edward Hopper painted rural Anatolia. Outside a dog barks. Is this a gas station? The Postman Always Rings Twice, in all its filmic incarnations, comes to mind. Everything happens at night.

I asked director Nuri Bilge Ceylan if he intended to put the whole world into three cars, driving in the dark to find a body and solve a crime? He took it literally. The people in the cars are the exact number of people it takes for this investigation. There is the Doctor (Muhammet Uzuner, most Chekhovian, with just a hint of Kafka), the Prosecutor (Taner Birsel, "You look a bit like Clark Gable, Sir"), the Commissar (Yilmaz Erdogan), the Suspect (Firat Tanis), the drivers, policemen, some gravediggers. All of them are the occupants of the three vehicles we follow on the winding roads through Stonehenge-style rocks. Who is who and what they are searching for is revealed slowly, or not at all. "Boredom is important to me", the director said.

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia produces the most exciting boredom. Men driving through a barren Turkish landscape are looking for a place by a fountain in the dark. They talk about buffalo yoghurt, a sick child who the father needs to get pills for, and that it seems "to have been raining for centuries". When lightning and thunder coincide, the hills and stones of the steppe are illuminated for a second beyond the car lights.

Ceylan calls himself a melancholic. "I thought filmmaking could be good for my kind of personality," he said. Extensive travels west (London, New York) and east (India, the Himalayas), convinced Ceylan to make films in Turkey.

"You have to stay in the circle and keep an eye on the centre," the detective says in Anatolia. The prosecutor tells the doctor the story of a healthy woman, who predicted she would die right after giving birth. And the woman, who wasn't at all superstitious, did die. This conversation takes place under a silvery tree, wind blowing the golden leaves. Don't be tricked by the once upon a time of the title, this is not a fairy tale and the story of this woman becomes the key that opens the box and unravels the coils of this narrative.

"Is this how we get into the European Union?" a policeman asks, picking up three rotten apples from that tree. The night is not over yet, but people have to eat. In a tiny village to the east, the three-car caravan invades the hospitable mayor's home where they all enjoy a midnight meal of lamb and comb honey together, sitting on the floor, suspect and prosecutor and gravediggers. A pretty girl, the youngest daughter of the house, holding an oil lamp, brings tea to the men. And one by one, they are enchanted by her calm beauty, the audience included, as if we too, hadn't seen a woman in ages.

Most of the actors in the film are amateurs. "If an actor doesn't work, I talk to the other actors. I try everything," Ceylan explained. "I deceive them, I lie to them, I shoot them secretly - you never know what is going to work".

After a long night, it is daytime and raining. A dog runs through a field and finds an ear on the ground. A garish blanket with a leopard print replaces a missing body bag. An autopsy is performed and some of the riddles of the journey are solved.

This is Ceylan's third film, selected for the New York Film Festival after Distant (2002) and Climates (2006). Nuri Bilge Ceylan loves Russian literature and Turkish writers. He likes movies that he is "bored by the first time" and that he can rediscover watching them anew. He concluded: "The tempo of my soul is like this."

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2011
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A group of men set out to investigate murder in the steppe.
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Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Writer: Ercan Kesal, Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Starring: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel, Firat Tanis

Year: 2011

Runtime: 157 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Turkey, Bosnia, Herzegovina

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