Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Day 13)
TITLE: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da)
DIRECTOR: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
LANGUAGE: Turkish | COUNTRY: Turkey
PROFILE: Drama, Crime | 150 minutes | IMDb (7.7)
SYNOPSIS (courtesy of Netflix): A body has been buried in the grasslands of rural Turkey. Over the course of one night, a doctor and a detective from a nearby town join a search effort in which the desolate landscape comes to symbolize their own solemn, insular lives.
Strengths: Is it slow? Hell yes, it’s slow. The movie’s been over for a couple hours, and I’m still waiting for something to happen. That’s not a complaint — Ceylan knows exactly what he’s doing. This is a slice-of-life police procedural in which the banal conversations, awkward moments, and silent expressions are not ingredients — they are the meal, and Ceylan finds the savory, sweet, and bitter in all these very subtle flavors.
The moments of humor are as dry as the landscape, and Ceylan is interested more in absurdity than laughs, particularly as the prosecutor fights to maintain his patience in face of incompetence and bickering.
Weaknesses: As much as I like and admire Ceylan’s minimalism and defiance of plot conventions, the absence of structure and standard character development means that Ceylan relies on understatement and indirection for everything. Bringing it all together is very difficult, and I’m not sure that Ceylan achieves the synergy he needs. The long final scene is executed with as much skill as everything else, but the final reach for poignancy falls short because there just isn’t enough dramatic substance to build on.
Acting: I love actors who communicate as much through their expressions and body language as their words, and that’s the rule here. Every character appears to have an authentic inner life, which they express with unassuming naturalism. No one ever seems to be acting, and the unsaid conveys as much as the said. It’s amusing to imagine Nuri Bilge Ceylan directing an inveterate scenery chewer like Al Pacino, as Al’s stifled need to be allowed just one “Hoo Ah!” finally makes his head explode.
Best Scene: Even if nothing else in the film worked, the price of admission would be justified by a silent night-time scene in which, after the lights have failed, the beautiful young daughter of their host serves tea. It’s beautifully filmed, and the characters’ individual reactions to the girl are exquisite. Honorable mention to the two scenes in which the prosecutor discusses the death of a beautiful woman with the doctor — and comes to a terrible realization. That the meaning is never stated makes it all the more effective. The movie’s most poignant moment.
File Under: understatement, police procedural, landscapes, silence, dark humor