Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Njuri Bilge Ceylan
Stars: Taner Birsel, Muhammet Uzuner, Firat Tanis, Ahmet Mumtaz, Taylan, Ercan Kesal, Murat Kilic, Safak Karali, Emre Sen, Nihan Okutcu.
This slow paced police procedural about an investigation into a murder will not appeal to fans of gritty tv shows like C.S.I., et al, with their graphic depiction of forensic details.
The film is set in a rural area around the town of Keskin, in the desolate region of Anatolia. In the rolling, remote hills on the outskirts of town, public prosecutor Nusret (Taner Birsel) together with a doctor (Muhammet Uzuner), the local police chief, a couple of cops, and a car load of soldiers are searching for the victim of a murder. A suspect named Kenan (Firat Tanis) and his mentally challenged brother have confessed to the crime, but they cannot remember exactly where they buried the body.
As the search continues throughout the long night, tensions escalate and further details about the murder emerge. The convoys stops frequently, and the men talk about trivial things, although the importance of what they discuss becomes clear much later. The prosecutor is haunted by past events in his own life. There is the story of a woman who predicted her own death and died accordingly. As dawn breaks the body is discovered, and the men return to town to perform an autopsy. That is when the real questions about what happened begin.
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is the new film from celebrated Turkish director Njuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys, etc), who won the directing prize at Cannes last year. Ceylan wrote the screenplay along with his wife, Ebru Ceylan, and actor Ercan Kesal, who also has a small role in the film, and employs a frustratingly oblique approach to the material, that many might find difficult to handle. Ceylan loves Russian literature and Turkish writers and this is reflected in the melancholy and contemplative tone of the film. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia becomes a leisurely contemplation on life and death and the darkness that lies in the heart of man’s soul.
The title evokes memories of Sergio Leone’s sweeping epics like Once Upon A Time In The West and Once Upon A Time In America, although here the pace is deliberately slow and there is very little in the way of action. As with most of Leone’s work, this is also an examination of the themes of violence, human nature and masculinity. Like the recent Silent Souls, this is a slow moving and off beat road movie that gradually reveals insights into the country and its people and their culture.
Ceylan carefully establishes his mis-en-scene, and he works with long takes and often frames the characters from a distance. However, this is a visually gorgeous looking film. Ceylan’s regular cinematographer Gohkan Tiryaki uses the widescreen beautifully to capture the sweeping but sparse landscapes. He also uses various shades of light and shadow to add an atmosphere of menace and unease to the proceedings. The mood generally is rather grim, but Ceylan incorporates unexpected moments of humour.
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is a beautiful looking film, but this is little compensation for its leisurely pace and lack of action. The film’s overly generous running time of 157 minutes may test the patience of some in the audience.