A Review in 5 Parts:
01. “Once upon a time in Anatolia” – The line, not the film. At one point in the film, a character says, "you can one day tell your child this story and start it with ‘Once upon a time in Anatolia, we were searching for a body…’ and he trails off. Despite the film’s stark realism, it is kind of like a fairy tale, right? While I believe in the Bible, others don’t and they see the birth of Jesus to be a fairy tale like story. I bring this up because throughout the film, I found several different allusions to the Biblical story of the three kings. The Prosecutor, the Police Chief, and the Doctor are the three kings. They are looking for a body, not a newborn, but a dead one. They have their star, but it’s in the form of a human being. Instead of the star staying over the manger of the body, the star is confused as to where the body is. They search through the night because when they arrive to the body they need to use their skills, not give gifts to find a similar salvation that the three kings found in Jesus: truth. They aim to find out what exactly happened while the three kings were aiming to find God in the flesh.
02. Expectations – From the reviews of both Cinema on the Road and Filmspotting, I was almost suspecting this to be a Apichatpong Weerasethakul/Bela Tarr-like study on the human consciousness with long durations without dialogue and long takes on the landscapes and faces of the men. Their set-ups were wrong! Not that I care, it is just funny to note how both podcasts make the film out to be something more difficult to sit through for the average film goer. Personally, while it is different from most law and order type procedural films and TV shows, I still think I would wholeheartedly suggest this to my middlebrow film friends. It is slow, don’t get me wrong, but the film is never boring and there is always a forward push with the development of the characters and situations.
03. Zoom – Ah, Ceylan does love a good face. Luckily, all three of the leads are easy on the eyes. With rare precision, Ceylan uses zooms to a strong effect. As a film maker, I am strongly opposed to zoom ins (which might be why I am not as an ardent fan of Kubrick as much as others), but here he is using them as they are meant to be used: to pick up and analyze facial movements instead of pushing a point on you. Whenever there is a zoom in, the character’s face is moving. This way, we get a analytical look at the face while never feeling like we are being pushed into the character’s psyche. It is one slow, swift movement.
04. Time – Here is something I seldom see in cinema: the lack of cutting away to a point later in the script. Granted, there are few moments where the film does it here, yet a lot of it is done in long takes to keep a slow rhythm to the film. The other thing I don’t see much in cinema is the way it captures those seemingly unimportant conversations you have during a late night doing something whether it be a job or hanging out with friends. Perhaps you’re in a uncomfortable, non-life altering situation (at least at the moment it doesn’t seem so) when conversations awkwardly bubble up that you don’t feel any strong emotional connection to until you think back and say to yourself, “well, that was a day when I truly connected with that person”. Anatolia captures that subtle feeling we all have when we remember that the most seemingly insignificant nights usually turn out to be the most important ones. It is mostly due to the languid pace.
05. Acting – I remember once, when I used to do acting, that I came across a monologue where a man is making a report on an autopsy on a corpse that he once had some kind of relationship to. However, there was no indication in the script or the dialogue that explains this out right. No actions. The dialogue consisted of somewhat banal listing of what occurred. At the time, I ignored it, but later on I thought just how wonderful it truly was. It relied on intonations and pauses to give weight to the character’s connection to the corpse. The acting doesn’t focus on the dialogue so much as it does to focus on how the characters behave. In a way, Ceylan is perfecting the skills on pure cinematic acting something that was touched on most famously with Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc where the movie’s true mysteries lie on the face and the body language, not the dialogue and the plot developments as so many other movies employ. When you get down to bare bones, movies are just an advancement over photography – the same basics apply, the same quote of “a picture says a thousand words” applies. For too long has cinema based itself around the parameters of a novel (heavy focus on forming a plot, heavy focus on holding the audience’s hand, heavy focus on dialogue that defines the characters completely) when cinema is anything but! Books are filled with a thousand words, maybe even a million words, that define the characters and situations every step of the way. The key question to “a picture says a thousand words” is what words does the picture say? And, does it say the same thousand words to every person?
Also Seen On: http://whatsupwill.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/once-upon-a-time-in-anatolia-a-review-in-5-parts/