Film Reviews and Discussion.

Review: Once Upon A Time In Anatolia


Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Duration: 150 mins


Transience. Impermanence. Life. Death. All explored over the course of a single night’s criminal investigation in the Anatolian foothills.

Directed by Nuri Ceylan, this film won the Grand Prix prize at Cannes in 2011 and it is a meticulous and methodical picture. Clocking in at 150 mins, the story centers around a murder investigation. We are not shown the crime and the misdeed. The police already have the culprits in tow and just need to locate where the body was buried.

We are quickly despatched into the dead of night, and the start of the search. A doctor, a handcuffed criminal and several police officers are all present and for the purposes of this film, together, they represent a trinity of the good, the bad, and the (imperfect but well intended) everyman.

The search would appear to be futile at first, as the landscape is indistinguishable from one vista to the next. Especially in the pitch black dark. Soon, you sense that the characters, marred by frustration, become engulfed by their surroundings. Allusions are thrown up to metaphysical issues, not only in the cinematography, but by the nature of their conversations. An anecdote shared by the Prosecutor with the Doctor sets up a recurring conversation between the two. It would appear to be used as a device to discuss the incongruent relationship between science, with its reason and rationale, and spirituality, with its romance and mystery.

No doubt about it, this is a film that takes its time, unravelling slowly. There are many conversations exchanged that, on the surface, appear inconsequential. Early on, there is a protracted discussion in the police vehicle about types of yoghurt. The lengthy dispute does nothing to further the plot. It doesn’t matter. What it does manage is to make the viewer feel like the characters are human and tangible. These opinions reflect real people and they engage with sincerity, just as people do in every day situations.

There are strong performances all round from the cast, who manage to reflect the complex make-up of the protagonists. The writers, Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Ceylan and Ercan Kesal, have succeeded in creating three dimensional characters who feel real, and come to the screen with a history. Thankfully, the cast’s depictions are measured, understated yet emotionally effective. The photography, by Gökhan Tiryaki, is perfectly balanced too, capturing the natural beauty of the landscape without shying away from the gritty reality of the poverty burdened by many in the local community.

This is not a film for everyone. If a blockbuster represents your average 3 minute pop song, then this plays like a mellow symphony. The story moves along with a whisper, rather than a scream. It is a film that has been lovingly crafted with an assured confidence; Ceylan understands the necessity to ‘show, not tell’.

Shakespeare stated that life is full of sound and fury that ultimately, in the end, signifies nothing. Is the sound, the fury, those little conversations we have (like the characters do about yoghurt)? Are those, in reality, the moments that signify nothing? Is there really any more to life than the consequences of human politic? Of course, all of this is open to interpretation and discussion. Watch this film either alone, or with the right company, and in the right frame of mind, and there is a high chance you will similarly ponder. After all, these are undoubtedly the big issues and this film wants you to consider them.

If you like this, try this: Biutiful (2010)

You see the trailer for Once Upon A Time In Anatolia here:


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This entry was posted on 25/08/2012 by in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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