Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel, Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan, Firat Tanis, Ercan Kesal, Cansu Demirci, Erol Eraslan, Ugur Arslanoglu, Murat Kilic, Safak Karali, Emre Sen, Burhan Yildiz and Nihan Okutucu.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was the co-winner of Cannes Film Festival's Grand Prix award last year alongside The Kind with a Bike. I was lucky enough to catch this movie a few months back, it is something that have stayed with me throughout. Ceylan's latest reminds me of Once Upon a Time in West, not because of the title similarities but the way Leone told the story with long shots, the unease, the length. This movie also gives nods to Fargo, movies from Kiarostami, Antonioni and above all Tarkovsky. This is genre bending, genre defying movie, masterfully shot, directed and acted in the outskirt of Turkish Anatolia. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a title that is used here perfectly in the right way tells us or shows us a police procedural/crime story/character drama all in one movie. Some might say it is slow, the others will say its too artsy but the patient viewers and actual cinema enthusiast would be rewarded. This movie in a way looks like a Film-Noir but it changes into something else all of a sudden, you can't really put your fingers on it but just that you haven't seen something like this in your life.
This movie follows a team of people in three cars over the course of one night to find the burial place of a dead body. The team includes a doctor, the commissioner, the prosecutor, drivers, guards, diggers and two brothers who are the suspects in the murder. One of the brother is mentally challenged, even if he did or helped in the murder or burial, he can't really say anything straight. The other one, who by looks seems like a criminal or someone involved in something of that sort appears to be drunk. This group is led to one fountain and then the other, from one town to the other throughout the course of the night as the drunk man tells them about the site but he becomes confused when they reach it partly because of his condition but mostly because of the landscape/lighting. The most intriguing character in the entire movie is the doctor Cemal (Uzuner), who doesn't appear so at first. In fact not even a single character appears to be of significant importance at start but as the movie proceeds, you find so many different shades and sides to each of these men, its amazing. The movie is said to have been based on a real life story of a doctor appointed at this remote rural outskirt for a few years in order for him to get his doctor licence. One of the writers is said to be that person and the movie is kind of a recollection of the stories he heard, things that happened and the atmosphere of the area that he felt. This movie is so rewarding visually at first that it appears to be shot in paradise or something, exceptional cinematography that is one of its kind. The vast hilly, arid and steppe area, the valleys, the zig-zag roads all appears to have been hiding tons of mysteries in the darkness. Not just the one they are looking for but it seems to be hiding many things, including the truth about every man that is out on this journey. The only light that we see is from the headlights of the cars and the wide shots of the area from various distances adds a lot of realism and magic to the scenery.
This journey slowly becomes painful and seems as if it will last forever, they'll search for a body forever which appears to be found nowhere, the search might continue forever. There aren't just silent shots of cars, the area or people searching and overlooking towards the horizon. Throughout all this, there are certain very interesting conversations that takes place. Those conversations seems to be reflecting directly upon the men themselves, the way they talk about certain things slowly reveals so much about them. That is something the men don't even realize but it does. From family problems to their frustrated jobs, from lamb chops and yogurt to wife, ex-wife, deaths and suicides. The morality, ethics, philosophies of life and the politics within politics. At points, the characters are interrupted by others while they are talking throughout the movie which signifies how much of they live in their past rather than focusing on their present or whatever that is going on around them right at the moment. These men doesn't seem to be interested in a way, they don't live in fantasy but they live in the past. As the night continues, with the body nowhere to be found, the characters become more and more frustrated, furious and tired. We as the audience feel the same frustration too while we are watching, the fatigue the hopelessness seems to be taking over. Before the dawn, the group stops at a nearby village to eat at Mukhtar's house, who is the mayor of the village i think. There is a scene where the daughter of Mukhtar serves tea to everyone after the meal, its is night but there is a thunderstorm and high winds. There is no electricity, the only source of light is of the lamps. The face of the girl, the beautiful innocent face lit up further by the light as she serves the tea in a slow motion shot is nothing short of magical realism. Unbelievably beautiful shot, stunning. Each and every one of them seems to have been effected by her in one way or another, her face is like a blank page on which they seems to be writing upon. Little do they know that it reveals so much about them, the eyes and face indeed speaks out louder than your words can sometimes.
There is a shot in this movie, widely discussed one which shows as apple rolling down with the stream of water. I don't see that shot as any less intriguing though i don't understand why it was used but it still makes us scared in a way that this apple will directly land on the site of the burial or something but instead it joins other apples who were brought down by the stream. Another significant thing which actually does have a meaning is of a conversation between the prosecutor and the doctor. The prosecutor tells the doctor about a case he was previously signed to where a woman correctly predicted the exact date of her own death. After giving birth to her child, she dies just like that. Throughout the movie at certain points, doctor tries to get as much information as he can from him regarding this case. The prosecutor seem to be backing up the story by telling him that she died of natural causes while doctor skeptical about it think she might have had some some drugs that lets say caused a heart attack but the prosecutor says there was nothing found. Later on in the movie towards the end, the doctor again asks the prosecutor further about the case. He also names a drug which can cause something like this which is the drug that was taken by prosecutor's own father in law so he identifies it. It is established that it was a suicide and that she did it because of her husband's infidelity. The most fascinating thing during this whole course of the conversation is how the prosecutor reacts and talks about the tiniest details which reveals that it was actually his wife. WOW.
Unforgettable moment when the body is discovered the next morning. The end comes off as rather shocking but not in a very thrilling way but very subtly. It involves the doctor, the wife of the victim and her son. The whole scene right from the autopsy to the very end which i wont spoil is just amazing. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a daring film, the director pushes the usual boundaries and presents us a movie that might be challenging for some but ultimately its a rewarding experience for those who are up for it. Ceylan's masterpiece. One of my most favorite movies of the year is something i would recommend to everyone of you.