Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia)
Autumn 2012 Features series
September 16, 2012 at 4:00pm
September 16, 2012 at 7:00pm
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Screenplay by Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Ercan Kesal
Starring Taner Birsel, Muhammet Uzuner and Yilmaz Erdogan
Rated PG ·
Turkish with subtitles with English subtitles
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
The plot of this film by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys), which won the directing prize at Cannes, is a forensic procedural that takes place over a 12-hour period, about half of which occurs between dusk and dawn during a long night drive through the desolately beautiful rolling hills of the Anatolian steppes in eastern Turkey. Three vehicles carry a group of exhausted and frustrated men, including a young doctor, a public prosecutor, a police chief, cops, soldiers and two confessed murderers. The problem is that the killers were too drunk to recall where they buried the victim’s body.
As they meander about, occasionally getting lost or stopping to urinate, they talk: The police chief Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan) threatens one of the scruffy prisoners Kenan (Firat Tanis) and condescends to his down-to-earth Arab driver (Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan) called, simply, Arab. The two most educated men in the group, the prosecutor, Nusret (Taner Birsel) and the melancholic younger doctor, Cernal (Muhammet Uzuner) bond. The prosecutor tells him about a baffling case of an apparently healthy young woman who correctly predicted the day of her death.
We emerge into morning light when the body is discovered, but the circumstances are more grim, and more complicated, than the police had guessed. They retire to the town to perform an autopsy. The victim’s wife and son show up. And as in any good police procedural there are revelations, both about the crime and the different men’s failures in their relationships and fears for their children. But there are also moments of humour and generosity, including the doctor’s decision not to report a discovery made during the autopsy.
“Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who wrote the screenplay along with his wife, Ebru Ceylan and the actor Kesal, has another essential collaborator: his regular cinematographer, Gohkan Tiryaki, who brilliantly uses light as a storytelling tool. From the car beams and lanterns of the night to the clinical glare of the autopsy room, the bare facts of the case emerge from the shadows, and the essential mystery deepens: How little we know of the inner lives of those around us.” (Liam Lacey, The Globe and Mail)
“There’s a murder at the story’s center, but as one after another face fills the frame, a tear violently trembling in one man’s eye while the memory of a dead wife hovers in another man’s look, it becomes evident that the greater mystery here is of existence itself. The title of Once Upon a Time in Anatoliasuggests the work of Sergio Leone, including most obviously Leone’s 1968 masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West. I don’t want to make strong claims about the influence of that or any other Leone film on Anatolia, yet, like most westerns, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is, among other things, an examination of violence and masculinity, one in which women remain critical if largely off-screen figures, silent if never truly mute.” (Manohla Dargis, The New York Times)