Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Though firmly established as the leading figure in Turkish art cinema, the filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan looked to be in danger of disappearing into a stylistic cul-de-sac of mannered visuals and spiritual jaundice, to judge from 2008’s Three Monkeys. His latest movie, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, adopts a form familiar from film and literature, the desultory police investigation that delves more deeply into the mindset of the investigators than the facts of the case. Stretching his widescreen canvas, across the rolling hills and mystical evenings of the Turkish provinces, Ceylan turns in a gorgeously shot, expertly paced, unexpectedly moving chronicle of a group of men, their heavy hearts and quotidian concerns.
Led by a suspect with a dubious memory, the official search party (and well-acted ensemble) includes Inspector Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan), prosecutor Nusret (Taner Birsel), and a skeptical young medical examiner Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner), along with rank-and-filers. Their drives are peppered with comically mundane dialogue even as the specter of mortality hangs over the entire proceedings, the search eliciting conversations touching on bureaucratic incompetence, career malaise, the violence and indolence of hierarchy, family gossip. Far beyond making a joke about the arbitrary gaps between professional duties, these scenes accumulate with a novelistic density, especially the rich set piece of a stopover in a rural village that turns into an epiphany by candlelight with the rare arrival of a young woman.
Breathtaking photography, engrossing exchanges, and the cohesive company of actors give the two-and-half-hour film the feel of something that’s simply constructed out of larger pieces than shorter films (and with elegance, as with a gradual shifting of focus towards the medical examiner). While it’s not a movie that grabs you by the lapels (with the exception of the landscapes), its virtues reveal themselves without asking you to dig the cosmos.
Opens January 4 at Film Forum