© Kinostar

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Turkey/Bosnia and Herzegovina 2011

Opening 19 Jan 2012

Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Writing credits: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan, Ercan Kesal
Principal actors: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Er, Taner Birsel, Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan, Firat Tanis

A convoy of three vehicles and about 15 men winds its way through the vast Turkish countryside. Sometimes we see the men in close-ups in the cars; sometimes from far away where the cars are tiny and the eastern Turkish landscape is amazingly beautiful. The photography is stupendous. From either viewpoint, we can listen to the passengers talk about everyday events, their lives, the taste of yoghurt, the necessity of weapons, plans for future jobs, etc. Occasionally they stop, roughly pull out a man with his hands handcuffed, push him into the area and ask, “Is this the spot? Under that tree? Over there?” After half an hour, we piece together that they are looking for the scene of a crime and the perpetrator has either forgotten where it is (because he was drunk), or is playing for time. They continue their search and the men continue conversing. In the group are a district attorney, a physician, a police chief, a court secretary, as well as two probable criminals; others are drivers and men with shovels. They address each other by their titles: attorney, doctor, commander, etc. They methodically work their way through the day and the night and then stop in a village where the mayor invites them for dinner; he bemoans the fact that the village lacks a morgue. The following day they continue on their unhurried way. By then we are 60 minutes into the film and they are still riding around, chewing the fat, and looking for a murder scene. We learn that “everyone has a weapon; it’s the only way to live here.” The attorney is proud of the fact that he resembles Clark Gable.

Kind of as an aside, they finally find the half-buried corpse. Actually, they find some dogs which have been gnawing on the corpse causing it to be exposed. The victim, a fully-clothed man, is loaded into one of the cars. They return to their town, where angry villagers are demonstrating in front of the jail. The doctor takes over from the lawyer in order to do an autopsy on cause of death. Here, once again, the court official, the doctor and a medical helper casually discuss ideas while the dead man lies between them on the table.

The film lasts two and a half hours. There is no real action, but still we aren’t bored as each person slowly reveals something of his life and personality. We see that perhaps the corpse isn’t really a victim; perhaps the criminal had his reasons. But it doesn’t really matter. Equilibrium is what counts in the town. The few women are a beautiful young girl who serves the men dinner on their first night on the road and the widow who identifies the corpse with her son. Women are behind the scenes. For example, the attorney tells of the suicide of his first wife, after he cheated on her. This also comes out slowly, as if he were talking of another man and another wife.

This film played in competition at the 2011 Cannes film festival where it tied for the Jury Grand Prix. Director is Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Some of the actors are Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel, and Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan. All deserve a wide audience, which they will most certainly get when this film goes around the world. (Becky Tan)

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