English Title: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Original Title: Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da
Country: Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Genre: Crime, Drama
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Cinematography: Gökhan Tiryaki
Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan
After his latest feature WINTER SLEEP (2014) won Palme d’Or this year, there is no better timing to assess Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s previous works, personally I was daunted by my first experience with his film, THREE MONKEYS (2008), so until now I dare to stride a second step, here comes his 2011 crime-drama.
The opening scene is a staunch fixed shot with its focus shifting from blur to clarity (which is a regular ploy for Ceylan), we see three men is inside a house and chatting casually, after hearing a dog barking outside, one opens the door and feeds the dog, later we will know, he is the dead victim Yasar and the other two are suspects. Then sliding the opening credits, but this is not a conventional whodunit and don’t expect Ceylan to expound on the nuts and bolts of the case, instantly the film embarks on its one-night and one-day account of how a convoy led by Prosecutor Nusret (Birsel) and Commissar Naci (Erdogan) locate the corpse with the confession of one of the said suspects Kenan (Tanis), and the subsequent autopsy conducts by Doctor Cemal (Uzuner).
The story is thick with ideas pertinent to the milieu of ethnic rural Turkey, the Anatolian part at least, as well as philosophical guidelines under a sweeping overtone about morality, innocence and compassion (for example, the falsehood in autopsy near the end, a drop of blood stain is a brilliant finishing touch to underlie the ambiguity, plus many symbolism additions are spread all over the film). As the search rambles on and sifted through their informal tête-à-têtes or implications suggested from random chitchats among other sidekicks in the team, audience will grasp the abiding burdens overpowering all 3 main characters, the prosecutor (his wife’s mysterious self-prophetic death), the commissar (the beaten career fatigue with a sick boy in the family to tend) and the doctor (a failed marriage scars his life). But it is not all solemn and depressing, occasionally, dark humour crops up at the most inappropriate crunch, say, the Clark Gable remark.
These characters are deeply felt by actors, who constitute a magnificent ensemble including many lesser players, the two-handers between Uzuner and Birsel (there are some fungal infection on his cheeks, quite intrusive) are certainly among the best of the year when several bouts of their calmly contradictory theories about the aforementioned destined death beguilingly play out with etiquette and composure.
As a matter of course, in Ceylan’s world, his outstanding visual scope is astonishing and even breathtaking in some unyielding long takes of Anatolia’s topographic magnificence. Also, leaving blank is a philosophy roots deeply in Ceylan’s cinema world, he offers viewers time to contemplate what they are watching and hearing, therefore, the total running time is stretched out, but in a very good way, if we have time, why don’t we sit down and enjoy a decent meal with intervals for rumination instead of gulping down fast food with scare nutrients and barren aftertaste? Which is a more reasonable and salubrious way for avid cinema-goers.