Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Review No.135: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

After a couple of films that haven't really floated my boated it's time for a bit of culture now with the film that co-won the Grand Prix at last year's Cannes Festival, along with the previously reviewed The Kid with A Bike, as I look at the Turkish film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Based on the experiences of one of the writers, a former doctor, it explores the search for a dead body as a convoy of three cars journey around at night time in the small Anatolian town of Keskin. The majority of the film is seen from the perspective of Doctor Cemal, who has been bought along in the police car in order to help with the crime scene investigation report, he is for most of the film a casual observer of the more vocal characters namely the warring police chiefs. As well as carrying a numerous amount of policemen there is also Prosecutor Nesret the most important figure in terms of hierarchy he is the person who most of the characters are out to impress however it is his relationship with the Doctor that is the most interesting. I felt that in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia the characters took precedent over the crime itself which was the murder of a man while the suspects of the crime are two brothers the rather dashing Kenan and his mentally-challenged brother Ramazan. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan focuses as much on the inconsequential conversations between the men in the cars as much as he does on the plot itself as the characters constantly find themselves in the wrong area because Kenan, who was drunk at the time of the murder, can't remember exactly where he buried the body. Eventually the men have to eat and sleep so they go to a nearby village where Kenan reveals something about the crime while later on the Prosecutor and the Doctor argue about an issue that is more important to the former's life than he lets on.

As I previously mentioned Ceylon's film works because of its realistic nature I find completely plausible that a drunk man would forget exactly where he buried about and would only be able to identify by a few distinguishing features such as the type of tree or a nearby bridge. He also likes to work with the confined space of the car which for the majority of the film is where we find Kenan, the Doctor, the Prosecutor, Police Commissioner Naci and his local chauffeur. Gökhan Tiryaki's cinematography also lends itself beautifully to the style of film as very often we see long shots of the cars on the road and hear the conversations rather than seeing them first hand. The camera will also quite often drift off to shoot an unrelated incident such as an apple falling off a tree before floating down a stream or when the group stay at the village we see the Doctor watching a jug rolling over in the wind. Similarly there are the conversations which feel like just things that normal people would talk about such as disgusting-flavoured yoghurt or tasty lamb chops however not all of the conversations are flippant as Naci is obsessed with the hierarchy of the police system while other coppers feel that they are treating the two convicts too well. All the actors work very well together especially the very down-to-Earth Muhammet Uzuner as the Doctor and the imposing screen presence of Taner Birsel as the Prosecutor.The title Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is mentioned by the Prosecutor as a way to open the story he may once tell his children about the incident however for me it harks back to Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West down to both have three central characters in the case of Ceylon's film these are Naci, Nesret and Cemal however there is no shoot-out between the trio. As the film is two and half hours long I did feel it lagging very occasionally but overall the use of light and shade, the brilliant performances, the well-written script and every single shot means that Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is definitely up there on my favourite films of the year so far.

Verdict: Nuri Bilge Ceylan really understands the importance of proper film-making and he has crafted a near masterpiece in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia which gets a very deserving 9/10

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