Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (aka Bir zamanlar Anadolu'da) review by Melissa Orcine - Cinema Paradiso
A group of cars are in motion, traversing Turkey's extensive Anatolia steppe of rolling hills and mountains, the landscape an idyllic setting – if not for the morbidity of the situation.
In ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’, what seems to be a tailgate party is in fact the aftermath of a crime. In one of those cars are murderers being accompanied by a prosecutor, a doctor, a gendarmerie, police officers, and diggers – in search of the site where a murdered man had been buried. It’s a caravan but not the kind that you would be happy about.
From the talented Turk film maker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, based on a script he also co-wrote with Ercan Kesal and Ebru Ceylan, ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’ puts a voyeuristic spin on what happens after a murder. In a way, the dead victim is already half-way to justice, having the murder suspect Kenan (Firat Tanis) confess the crime. Kenan has just struck a deal with police Commissar Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan) in exchange for the release of his brother Ramazan (Burhan Yildiz), the second suspect to the homicide.
As Kenan directs everyone to somewhat disastrous results because he can’t remember where he has dumped the body, other characters also ruminate on their desperate and futile attempt to do a search especially when they do it in the dead of the night, only their headlights to guide them. This is where ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’ becomes a dream-like series of sequences, thanks largely to its director of photography, Gokhan Tiryaki. The Anatolia steppe is sprawling and magnificent as is but when lit in a very murky way, it becomes an alluring landscape suitable to the story at hand.
There is no plot to speak of in ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’; it seems it’s going for that purgatorial state of quiet introspection with a few chatter from its characters, often not at all leading to clarity for their situation. The film, at a stretch of two-and-a-half hours, is too long for such long period of silences. But then, it’s beautifully shot.