Original release: 23rd September 2011
Running time: 157 minutes
Country of origin: Turkey
Original language: Turkish
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Writers: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan
Cast: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel, Fırat Tanış
How much do we really know about a person? It’s fascinating how strangers connect with each other, people of different personalities, backgrounds and professions. Some people relate better than others, most are informed by their past, many seemingly unable to let go of their past. In order to make a connection, we’re at the mercy of how much someone is prepared to give.
Turkish film-maker Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is about the aftermath of a murder. The film starts at night when a group of men go into the countryside to find the body of a murder victim. The group includes the two men accused of the murder, one of whom has confessed and states he will confirm where they buried the body.
There’s also a police chief, his men, a public prosecutor, a doctor, some diggers and guards. Kenan (Fırat Tanış), the confessor, leads the men on a merry dance, the night drags on into the early hours and the men grow tired and annoyed, taking their frustrations out on each other. We start to learn about these troubled souls, unravelling their fears and desires, their part in the scheme of things. Often in a comedic tone, we find out about the corruption and neglect suffered by many, and the ineptitude of the state exemplified by the diggers who forgot to bring a pick and a body bag!
The night scenes are beautifully shot; we see across the countryside with car headlights and scenes in a village by candlelight. A young woman, lit again by candlelight, becomes a moral beacon for many of the men to confront their actions, including Kenan who’s so moved by her presence that he confesses to knowing exactly where the body is.
Scenes are slow and painstakingly considered, and full of symbolism and thoughtfulness. One memorable scene sees an apple drop from a tree and the camera follows the apple going downhill into a stream, whilst in the background we can hear the men quarrelling over their laughable attempts at finding the corpse. Poetry exists not just in the beautiful but the mundane.
Having adapted to the pace of the film, we begin to realise Once Upon A Time In Anatolia concentrates on the mechanisms of the investigation rather than the murder itself. The men slowly reveal themselves but we’re still often none the wiser, especially in the conversations between the world-weary prosecutor Nusret and the more sensitive Dr. Cemal, who become the central characters to the story. They exchange views on a mysterious death over a few lengthy scenes. Through their silences and subtle facial expressions we learn a little more about the other but both are still so opaque that we’re left to decide for ourselves as to what they’re really trying to reveal about their lives.
Everyone seems to be guilty of something, but Ceylan stubbornly and enigmatically refuses to reveal enough for us to feel as if it’s all made sense. You’ll need a great deal of patience to watch what is quite a long film, but Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is a strangely warm, very funny and intensely emotional study of Turkish life that will leave you mesmerised.
Art school opened Dipesh's eyes to the endless possibilities of film, constantly amazed at how filmmakers can alter our perceptions of the world. He's been devouring films in all genres from any period from all over the world ever since - life just wouldn't be the same without film! Some favourites include Stalker, All About My Mother, Oldboy, 2001, Man Bites Dog, Salaam Bombay, Hana Bi and Delicatessen.