Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

Turkey 2011
Directed by
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
157 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Synopsis: Late one night in the countryside somewhere outside the Turkish capital, Ankara, three carloads of men are weaving their way in convoy along the remote roads. Inside are a police commissioner, Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan), the state prosecutor Nusret (Taner Birsel), Doctor Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner), a driver, Arab Ali (Ahmet Mumtaz Teylan) and two brothers, one of whom has already confessed to a murder. He is Kenan (Firat Tanis), and he is trying to direct the police to where he thinks the body is buried. As the night wears on the men reveal a lot about themselves, their inner lives, and some larger truths.

Sound intriguing? Well, this will depend on whether you are able to give yourself over to a slow-moving but mesmerising film whose style and minimalist content makes for a rare treat in this era of synthetic story-telling. Let me try to whet your appetite.

Firstly, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia looks extraordinary. After the opening scene in which three men in a junk-yard are seen through a grubby window, we are shown mysterious and visually ravishing scenes of a vast landscape, with a winding snakelike road, the sun setting and headlights twisting eerily around the bends. Watching this long (and I mean long!!) take reminded of Abbas Kiarostami’s use of similar scenes and I began to wonder when something would happen, if at all. But suddenly we are in the cars and meeting the characters. They are not your average Hollywood-style cops – these are real human beings, with real conversation. Tiny but telling things happen – they discuss types of yoghurt, Inspector Naci’s phone rings, its tone being the theme from Love Story, the prosecutor keeps getting out for a pee, setting the doctor off on a discussion of the importance of men checking their prostate, and they philosophise quite a lot about death. The prosecutor tells the story of the wife of a friend of his who could predict the exact date of her death, which came to fruition. This seemingly small anecdote proves to have great personal significance later in the film.

Somewhere in the early hours of the morning the posse pulls into a remote village where the mayor entertains them with food and drink. The mayor’s daughter is exquisitely beautiful and her beauty puts each of the men into a deep reflection on what it would take to win a girl like her. At that point the suspect, Kenan, a fierce, hawk-faced man, begins to weep inexplicably. Later, after the body is found an autopsy is held. Nothing is shown, but the sickening sounds say more. As the body is reduced to a jumble of organs the men must face man’s inhumanity to others as they struggle to understand what may have happened.

In this oblique form of story-telling much is left below the surface but that is precisely what gives the film its depth. There is a deep sense of spirituality but not in a pretentious way and we the audience are with this group of men (the women are marginal presences, perhaps reflecting a quality of Turkish society), each grappling with being human and making sense of the world around him, especially such unfathomable human brutality.

There are many questions and not a lot of answers in this film which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2011, but we are in no doubt that we in the company of real vulnerable and compassionate human beings. Each actor makes his character compelling and the evocative visual style, combined with the careful attention to design detail, makes Once Upon A Time In Anatolia a film to be savoured.  




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst