¨You can say, once upon a time in Anatolia when I was working out in the sticks I remember this one night which began like this.¨
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a beautiful film with some breathtaking cinematography, a great use of long shots, and a combination of dark sceneries lighted by vehicles or candles. The story is also interesting and intriguing at times with some memorable characters, but the film also dragged and moved real slowly which made it a difficult watch. Despite the beautiful scenes my eyes were dozing off during this two and a half hour long movie. This isn’t a film for everyone because it is long and slow, but also very artistic. There are a lot of symbolisms introduced in the movie as well, and the fact that the movie is so slow is kind of purposely done so in such a way that the viewer gets to feel and experience how the night is taking its toll on the characters who are suffering from a hard day`s work and fatigue. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is directed by Turkish director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan (who also made Distinct and Climates), who co-wrote the film with Ebru Ceylan and Ercan Kesal. Their film received a lot of love from the critics and it also won the Jury Grand Prize in the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. I had no clue about this movie until I heard several critics include it as their favorite film of 2012 in their midyear lists. I can see why it received so much love, because it was really beautiful and artistic, but I also can see why many people will hate this film because it`s just way too long and moves so slow. It becomes tedious to watch this film and you begin to feel as tired as the characters are.
The film is basically a police procedural as we join a caravan of three cars driving through the rural area of Anatolia on their way to recover a dead body somewhere in the valley. Two brothers, Kenan (Firat Tanis) and Ramazan (Burhan Yildiz) have confessed to the crime and are trying to point out to the police where they have buried the body. Prosecutor Nusret (Taner Bisel), the Police Commissioner Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan), and Doctor Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner) are leading the search along with a couple of officers, guards, and the driver Arab Ali (Ahmet Taylan). What seemed a simple search is turning out to be a long and tedious one as Kenan can`t recall the exact location of the place where he has buried the body. He claims to have been drunk the night he killed the victim and buried him. As the hours go by and the officials become impatient the night begins to take its toll on everyone. During the search we get to know each one of the characters through a series of dialogues between each other. Some of these dialogues and stories they tell are actually more interesting than the things that are going on. The film depicts the police procedural with a lot of details and in a realistic fashion.
Despite almost falling asleep with this long movie, I have to admit I was intrigued with what was going on and loved how the film was shot with such beautiful sceneries. It was hard to grade this film because it is truly memorable and original, but at the same time it feels so tedious that you just want to give up on it. The ending is also very unsatisfying as I was expecting something more climatic or revealing considering how long we had to wait for it. On the other hand the film does leave a lot of interpretations available and will have you thinking about some of the things that happened. The film revolves around men mostly, and there are very few scenes with women in it, but they do play an important role every time they show up on screen. There are a lot of hidden symbolisms behind several scenes and that is what allows the viewer to have different interpretations of what might have happened. Muhammet Uzuner as the Doctor gives the best performance in the film and the rest of the cast was also pretty strong. I didn’t have a great time with this film and wouldn’t consider it among my favorite movies of the year, but it was interesting and barely got a passing grade for me.