Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

Methodical, slowly-building story, from night into morning. Nothing much is happening, as a police chief, prosecutor, doctor and whole crew of cops and diggers drive a suspect (and barely-seen second suspect) from one landscape to another as he tries to recall where it was that he killed and buried his brother. I’m suspicious of the acclaim because I wasn’t a huge fan of Climates (though I liked it, which is easy to forget since Katy vocally hates it), but soon I’m drawn into the atmosphere and have to admit it’s a great movie. But then I interrupt my viewing around the same time the tone of the film changes when they find the body and drive into town, and when I return, the last 45 minutes seemed completely off.

Chief has a short temper, is mad that nobody seems to be able to do his job without shouted instructions. Prosecutor has to pee a lot, asks Doctor a lot of questions. Through his answers, Doctor indirectly reveals that the prosecutor’s wife probably killed herself. Arab is the driver, who married a woman from a nearby town which he seems to hate. Suspect One looks like Vincent Gallo, stays silent for almost the whole movie, except to ask someone to look after his wife, and to cry when a kid in town (dead man’s son – but really his own son, as revealed earlier) throws a rock at his head. An all-male cast except two small non-speaking roles for two pretty young women.

Chief front left, Arab front right:

Music swells up after 17 min and it occurs we haven’t heard any yet, but it was the chief’s ringtone. Mid-search, they break at the town Arab’s wife comes from, eating with the mayor (Ercan Kesal of Three Monkeys, co-writer of Anatolia) and his family. His gorgeous daughter serves everybody by candlelight, and Suspect One has a vision of his dead brother.

When the body is found, Suspect Two blurts out “I’m the one who killed Yasar,” but nobody seems to notice or care. Back in the city, body identification by the widow, then (off-camera but squishy-sounding) autopsy, the doctor staring out the window.

“You can say ‘Once upon a time in Anatolia when I was working out in the sticks, I remember this one night which began like this.’ You can tell it like a fairytale.”

Some cool scenes. Arab is talking to Doctor, the camera behind his head, Doctor not responding, then camera comes around and we see that Arab’s not speaking, but his voice continues. How much did he say, and how much was in his head? After a fight, an apple rolls down a hill and down a stream, probably a glaring metaphor but I just enjoyed watching the apple, flashing back to The Four Times. A few brief, eerie uses of slow motion.

Also, the doctor finds a rock face while taking a pee:

People are keeping secrets for mysterious reasons. I thought it was philosophy in the guise of an investigation movie, but then after they find the body it becomes an investigation movie (usually the other way around).

S. Foundas in Cinema Scope does a good job conveying the atmosphere of the film without getting bogged down in story (what little there is). “In methodically tracing the play-by-play of a seemingly routine police investigation, it is a film of many details but no explanations, a mystery that conjures a sense of the eternal.”

the director, quoted in Time Out:

‘The real story was told to me by a doctor,’ Ceylan says. ‘But yes, the doctor in the film is a little like me in terms of personality. He is a very rational person, but of course that is not enough to deal with life. Life has a metaphysical dimension too. There are questions that you cannot answer with knowledge. The doctor has these questions in his mind. The important thing is that, by the end of the film, we see that he has the ability to feel something for somebody else. That’s the hope for him.’

Reverse Shot:

Infidelity comes to represent the highest, most irrevocable form of betrayal, the most persuasive case for one person’s essential remoteness from another, as well as a fault line between the sexes (2006’s Climates explored similar terrain, coolly anatomizing the aftermath of a breakup). This is just one of many irreconcilable binaries in Ceylan’s films: urban/rural, parents/children, movement/stasis. His characters are more often than not caught in the middle of a protracted process of disillusionment, a long, slow loss of faith in the idea that they can form meaningful or lasting associations even with lovers or family, or that they can escape on a moment’s notice from the lives they’ve made for themselves… These days, thoroughly forlorn depictions of the human condition rarely come outfitted with such strikingly realized environments or such a seamlessly integrated sense of humor — Ceylan’s jokes don’t upset the mood by leavening it, or move the dial toward caricature, but arise naturally from the gaps in communication between the characters.

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