I can’t say I’ve seen many Turkish films (any, even) so Once Upon a Time in Anatolia shoots to the top of that list by default. But Anatolia also tops the list of art-house movies I’ve seen recently – it’s a darkly beautiful piece of filmmaking.
Lets get one thing straight: Anatolia is very slow and very long. But don’t let that put you off, it’s well worth the endurance. A seemingly simple story of a group of guys – police officers, a doctor, the prosecutor and a criminal – searching for a buried body, sets the scene for a deeper reflection on several of the men. It’s a dialogue heavy film but every sentence is worthwhile. As well as building character and psychology, there’s a morbid sense of humour at play in the script. Since the men spend so much time together their conversation wanders into incongruously funny areas such as a discussion about prostate examinations, whilst later on reactions to a forgotten body bag later are almost farcical.
If there’s one thing the conversation often leads back to it’s women. Whether the beautiful daughter of a village mayor, a policeman’s nagging wife, the woman that left the doctor, or a beautiful woman dying in mysterious circumstances, for these men women are the cause of equal amounts joy and pain Anatolia portrays a man’s world of professionals at work in masculine jobs, but they can never escape the impact of females on their world.
It’s a thoughtful film, and its purpose isn’t explained explicitly or verbally. But through putting together the pieces of conversation and behaviour, and mapping them onto the expressions of the doctor (to an extent onto the other characters as well, but the doctor does slowly become the focus) we arrive at something quite profound. Muhammet Uzuner is exemplary in his role as Doctor Cemal, while the rest of the cast are suitably excellent.
Meanwhile, director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki team up to produce some stunning imagery with every shot as well planned, contemplative and subtly expressive as the screenplay. Also notable is the lack of any score, which results in the sound technicians doing some fine work with well mixed naturalistic noises.
In conclusion, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is simply masterful filmmaking.