Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner16/03/2012

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 157 mins

Beautifully shot and superbly directed, this is a haunting, contemplative Turkish drama that transcends its lengthy running time thanks to strong performances, a thought-provoking script and some stunning visuals.

What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da, original title fans) is set in modern-day Turkey and stars Taner Birsel as Nusret, a prosecutor responsible for finding the buried corpse of a recent murder victim. With one of the suspects (Firat Tanis as Kenan) in tow, Nusret assembles a group of officials – including policeman Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan), doctor Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner) and driver Arab (Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan) – and leads them on a drive through the Anatolian wasteland in order to find the body. However, as the sun sets, it becomes increasingly clear that Kenan's memory is less than reliable and they're soon investigating a number of different locations.

The Good
The ensemble cast are excellent: at first, it's difficult to tell who everyone is (almost every character sports a luxurious moustache), but gradually the individual personalities emerge through the various snippets of conversation, their interactions with each other and the ways in which they approach their various jobs. Chief among these are Nusret and Cemal, whose shared conversations both become more personal and revealing.

Despite the murder mystery set-up, this isn't exactly a Turkish version of The Killing – the script is much more interested in the idea of these men undergoing a long dark night of the soul and Ceylan's strength as both co-writer and director is that the lengthy silences draw the audience into these contemplative moments. Similarly, the dialogue feels naturalistic and there are occasional moments of unexpected, earthy humour, such as when two of the men discuss yoghurt or in the bickering interactions between some of the officials. (There's also an impressive bit of apple-wrangling, when an apple seems to roll, unbidden, down a hill and along a telltale stream).

The Great
However, the film's real strength is its stunningly beautiful cinematography, courtesy of Gökhan Tiryaki, who makes strong use of available light and does things with the colour yellow that you wouldn't have thought possible. One particular highlight occurs when the group stop at the house of the local Mayor (Ercan Kesal): the Mayor's striking daughter (one of only two women glimpsed in the entire film) brings them all something to drink and Tiryaki bathes her in an angelic yellow light, before slowly panning round the room as each man in turn takes in the vision in front of him – it's an incredible moment that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.

Worth seeing?
Visually stunning and superbly written, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a haunting and contemplative police drama that exerts an unexpectedly powerful emotional grip. Recommended.

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Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (15)
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Content updated: 20/09/2017 21:12

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