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Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Posted by martinteller on August 20, 2012

I’ve been reading a lot of true crime lately.  Stories about investigators digging deeper and deeper into unpleasant business, uncovering truths that may be left buried, and yet how do you not want to know?  At what point do we abandon a righteous quest for truth in the face of basic decency, and how does that equation change when you make some human connection with those involved?  Nuri Bilge Ceylan is exploring similar issues here. 

A team of people is exploring the rural area of Anatolia, searching for a body.  Among them are the police chief (Yilmaz Erdogan), a doctor (Muhammet Uzuner), the prosecutor (Taner Birsel), and two suspects, including the one (Firat Tanis) having a hell of a time remembering where he buried it.  It will prove to be a long and frustating hunt, with several dead ends and an extended detour for a late dinner.  The search itself takes up the bulk of the film’s extensive running time, and although the movie does not achieve (nor strive for) the glacial pacing of Tarr or Tsai, those expecting an action-packed police procedural will be sorely disappointed.  Much of the film consists of seemingly banal conversations, some of which are dropping clues either relating the plot’s central mystery or a tangent that is thematically related.

Ceylan shoots the film beautifully, especially the scenes of the cars’ headlights piercing the night, illuminating the twisting and undulating countryside.  He showcases the faces of his actors with long and studious close-ups, inviting the viewer to jump on their trains of thought.  All of the main performances are quite good, crafting characters who are slowly revealed.  There’s also quite a lot of humor — genuinely funny humor — peppered in among the gloomy tones.  Some of the scenes are truly memorable, like the apple in the stream, the appearance of the mayor’s daughter, or the autopsy.

And yet, it’s kind of the same old story with Ceylan and me.  This may be the best I’ve seen by him, or at least tied with Distant.  But as much as I appreciate what he does — with a style that evokes Tarkovsky, Sokurov, Kiarostami — it falls just short of exciting me.  Part of it, perhaps, is that I feel he’s trying to squeeze a little too much out of those pregnant pauses.  I’m not as fascinated with his more languorous scenes as I am with other practitioners of “slow cinema” (an appellation I’m not sure even applies much to Ceylan).  I’m sure others have gotten more out of his movies than I have.  I do feel like his work will open up to me more on subsequent viewings… I just haven’t been inspired to revisit any.  Still, I do think he’s one of the better directors working today, and am always up to check out whatever he does next.  Rating: Very Good (83)


6 Responses to “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”

  1. Here’s the link to our latest blogathon if you fancy taking part

  2. JamDenTel said

    I don’t know quite why this one clicked for me as much as it did–maybe because I had been excited for it for several months before I got to see it, maybe I was in the right mood, I don’t know…but I really did enjoy it, and hope to see it again. Yet, oddly enough, I’m not really motivated to check out more of Ceylan’s works.

  3. kevlarcardhouse said

    This review seems to sum up my feelings about it as well. I certainly loved watching it, and despite the slow pace I found the time passing by quite easily. But I also feel like some of the moments are not quite as profound as the director wants me to think it is. I can’t rule out part of the problem being a cultural gap, though.

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