Once upon a time in Anatolia
- Released: Thursday, 31 May 2012
- Runtime: 150 mins.
- Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan. Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Rated M (Coarse language and mature themes). 150mins.
Ceylan is probably Turkey’s best-known director today. He has featured with most of his films at the Cannes Festival and has won the director’s prize there for Three Monkeys. He also won the Grand Jury Prize for Distant and in 2011 for the present film. However, he is known in the art film world rather than at the multiplexes and his films and their style are an acquired taste.
His films often have quite a long running time – and are quite unhurried, often with a lingering gaze at characters in close-up or at landscapes. The audience has plenty of time to contemplate, reflect and be immersed in the world that Ceylan invites them into.
This film runs for two and a half hours. The action takes place over one night and a morning – so plenty of time to offer detail. And the film does. It is detail about the search for the body of a murdered man – the police, soldiers, a doctor and the local prosecutor accompany the alleged killer to different sites in the rather barren mountains of Anatolia. There is a prologue with three men drinking and talking, then the credits, then a long shot of three cars, lights on, travelling the mountain road, then arriving at the first site. When we see the accused, we realise that it is a seemingly jovial friend that he has killed.
After some futile visits to possible burial places, the group spend the night in a village. Again, we have a long time to contemplate the mayor, his daughter, and what life, hospitality and cooking, are like in this remote town. There is an interesting discussion about the need for funding for a morgue – many emigrants to Europe have left their families behind and want to return at their deaths, often in a very hot summer. He makes a point.
When the body is recovered, there is quite a lot more detail, not just the forensic detail, but the problems in transferring the body since the group has neglected to bring a body bag. Later, there are sequences in the autopsy room.
There are enigmatic interludes, especially with the prosecutor asking the doctor’s opinion about the death of the wife of a friend (obviously telling his own story) as well as the relationship of the accused with the son of the dead man who is identified by his wife.
Films like this can alienate an impatient audience. They can fascinate those who surrender themselves.