My presence at the 2011 New York Film Festival wasn’t as dominant as ‘09 (life during wartime, trash humpers, the white ribbon) or 2010 (uncle boonmee, another year, black venus and certified copy) since i pretty much saw everything a month earlier in Toronto. However there were still a few films that slipped through the cracks while i was at TIFF which i managed to get tickets for at NYFF like ’A Dangerous Method’ (which i STILL wasn’t able to see due to a scheduling conflict with a Portishead concert i forgot about on the same night) and ‘Once Upon A Time In Anatolia’ (i still have yet to see Andrea Arnold’s recent adaptation of ‘Wuthering Heights’ which is still haunting me). Even though I saw ‘Once Upon A Time In Anatolia’ back in October (which ended up on my Top 10 of 2011), I needed time to process everything. It was a lot to take in. Watching ‘Once Upon A Time In Anatolia’ is kinda like watching a great game of chess, soccer or even baseball, while others would say watching this “boring masterpiece” is like watching paint dry (oh and btw, I’m not a fan of baseball, soccer or watching chess. I was just trying to make a comparison). It may seem boring at first, but it all pays off in the end (in my opinion).
What makes this film so mind blowing (to me at least) is that the characters in the film are kinda going through the same exact thing as the audience that’s watching the movie. On one side of the movie screen you have a group of characters slowly getting frustrated after driving through the rural backwoods of Turkey all night trying to find something that may or may not even be where its supposed to be. On the other side of the screen, you have a theater full of people watching a slowly paced 150+ minute film that doesn’t necessarily spell everything out for you all the time and it doesn’t hold your hand every step of the way. Its easy to get frustrated while watching something like ‘Once Upon A Time In Anatolia’. You may start to ask yourself; “Where is this going?!”, “Whats the point of all this?” or “Why am I sitting through this?!” Like any boring masterpiece, you need patience to sit through this.
In ‘Once Upon A Time In Anatolia’, a man has just confessed to a murder. Now he has to take a group of police investigators and a medical examiner to the place where he buried the body. The only problem is that the murderer cant quite remember where the spot is, which leads them on an almost 24 hour search for a dead body. Although that’s the basic plot, there’s much more to it. Director; Nuri Ceylan took what could have been a typical “cop drama” or police thriller and turned in to an exploration of self reflection, patience, the factors that could bring a man to kill another man (at the end of the film we get enough hints as to why the murder was committed) and yes…the film is also an exploration into the soul of man (as corny as that may sound). Although the film is filled with police, tension and a few moments of aggression, not once is a gun drawn (…i think) and we actually never even see the murder take place yet I never stopped paying attention or lost interest. This film offers so much to the viewer. If you’re a fan of beautiful imagery and shots of countryside landscapes, there’s plenty of that in the film.
Because there isn’t as much dialogue as you’d expect from a 2 1/2 hour film, a lot of the film’s tension and eerie atmosphere is carried out through the intense glares and stern facial expressions of the actors. Its almost like they’re looking straight in to someone’s soul…
And even though this film wont exactly raise your pulse or make your blood pressure go up, there’s still a few eerie scenes and shots that will stay with you long after its over…
What also makes this film so unique is that even after the mystery is resolved and the dead body is finally found (which IS a pivotal scene reminiscent of other great scenes of discovered dead bodies like ‘Boyz N Tha Hood’ and ‘Stand By Me’), the film still continues and lingers on for another good 40+ minutes or so. In most murder mysteries the discovery of the body or the discovery of who did it (which isn’t the case with ‘Once Upon A Time In Anatolia’) or why the murder was committed is essentially the pay off/climax. Once those elements are solved the rest of the film wraps up fairly quickly. In ‘Once Upon A Time In Anatolia’ we get a little background and character development into the medical examiner (through old photos we learn about his past) and we also learn a few things about the murdered man’s family.
The presence of women in ‘Once Upon A Time In Anatolia’ is also something to take note of. In this almost all-male cast, the few female characters are made out to be more like mysterious figures as opposed to actual people (the scene where the young girl brings the police food and the final scene where the wife identifies her husbands dead body are prime examples of this). In fact, there’s only one line of listenable dialogue from a female character (outside of the muffled phone conversation one of the men has with his wife over the phone).
I’ve already read reviews and overheard comparisons of ‘Once Upon A Time In Anatolia’ to the work Abbas Kiarostami (specifically ‘The Taste Of Cherry’) as well as Tarkovsky. Its pretty easy to quickly compare this film to Kiarostami’s work, but outside of ‘Certified Copy’ and ‘The Taste of Cherry’ (which, like Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, also centers around death and men driving through rural areas looking for “the meaning of it all”) his work, although mostly fiction, is almost documentary-like.
I’m almost embarrassed to say, but ‘Once Upon A Time In Anatolia’ is the first Nuri Ceylan film that I’ve ever seen (that’s right, I haven’t even seen ‘Three Monkeys’). But if there’s ever been a film that’s gotten my immediate interest in a director, this would be it. I’ll be exploring the rest of Ceylan’s work in the near future.