Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia Reviews

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Super Reviewer
March 8, 2012
An absorbing drama that relies on an engaging dialogue and a peculiar sense of humor, following a group of characters in a crime investigation as they talk about trivial things and reveal a lot about themselves in the process - and it boasts an impressive sound job and astonishing cinematography.
Super Reviewer
½ October 9, 2013
This beautifully shot Turkish film puts a lot of responsibility on the viewer - it asks you to be patient and to find a point within seeming pointlessness. A simple (and arguably overlong) tale that seems to take place in rural Turkey but actually takes place solely within the psyches of its characters, audiences are asked to forget what they know about film narrative and find out more about human interactions and how people deal with the truth and accept that the truth may never be knowable.
Super Reviewer
½ June 13, 2012
to call this a police procedural or crime drama seems wrong but i don't know how else one would describe it in genre terms. it's gorgeous, mysterious and rewards patience
Super Reviewer
June 11, 2012
'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia'. Slow burning, but oh-so-absorbing! A most beautiful look at the mundane that is life.

Every frame of that first hour and a bit is a painting waiting to be sold. Exquisite composition and cinematography, with many a long take emphasising the beauty of the rolling hills against the slow-moving people and cars.

Every take is a patient one. Life isn't quick cuts and dramatic reveals. We're forced [I mean it in the best possible way, but others will say it's in the worst] to experience the banality these men go through.

Clearly this is masterful screen-writing and direction, because I was leaning forward, on the edge of my seat the whole way through, while the sighs and fidgeting echoed around me.
Bill D 2007
Super Reviewer
½ February 11, 2012
Film critic Molly Haskell famously described 'The Godfather' as "grandly mournful," a beautifully apt description. 'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia' is just as mournful but without the grandeur -- and without a story.

It beats me why 'Anatolia' took second prize at Cannes last year. But 2011 was a tough year in general for Cannes. Top prize went to "The Tree of Life," which in my view was run-of-the-mill Buddhism tarted up with kaleidoscopic visuals.

In my review of 'Tree,' I described it as a bloated over-statement. I'd describe 'Anatolia' as a bloated non-statement. If it can be imagined, 'Anatolia' has even fewer ideas than 'Tree.' And Cannes was all aflutter over these two films? It must have been a very undistinguished group of films in competition last year.

'Anatolia' is a long, slow, boring dirge. Turkish filmmaker Nuri Ceylan, who has a very good reputation among serious cinephiles (but this is the first Ceylan film I have seen), takes a bunch of middle-aged male actors out to the remote, frighteningly barren countryside of Turkey in the middle of the night and follows them around with his camera as they amble about in a sleep-deprived stupor.

They are playing policemen on a murder investigation. Why they are conducting an investigation in the middle of the night is never explained. Their caravan of broken-down vehicles pulls up to one barren location after the next, and all the men look around the ground for clues. Most of them are overweight, semi-educated imbeciles -- peasants with a high school diploma. The only one with real intelligence is a doctor, who inexplicably is along for the ride.

That doctor becomes the heart of the movie, and gradually he does emerge as a slightly interesting character. But only slightly. He, like all the other characters, has nothing to do, so his character can only be contemplated in the abstract.

In the last half-hour of this overly long film (two-and-a-half hours), I started to feel that Ceylan was a true artist. Probably only a minor one, but a true one. He does have something mournful to say about life and about people that is genuinely artistic. I just don't think he captured his artistic viewpoint very effectively here, either in the writing of the script or the directing of the film shoot.

The cinematography, art direction, and editing is consistently pedestrian. My hunch is that he consciously chose a flat style -- flat neo-realist style is very popular in high-art cinema these days (see also Iran's "A Separation," which has become such an art-house hit in America and is likely to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film). But I don't think it served Ceylan's purpose at all. I can appreciate that he wanted to portray his characters as mind-numbingly boring and flat. But when the man behind the camera starts to seem mind-numbingly boring and flat, something has gone wrong -- at least for me.
Super Reviewer
March 25, 2012
A bunch of grizzled cops spend the night driving through the Turkish countryside, a couple of murder suspects in tow, as they search for the burial site of their victim.

At two and a half hours this will be a challenge for most viewers, it certainly was for this one. A shame as if the final act were shorn this would be a really enjoyable film. The characters are deeply likable and could be the most realistic looking cops ever seen on screen. They all look like men on the verge of heart conditions, walking lumps of sweaty cholesterol. In the opening scene one complains of being served yoghurt instead of kebabs. "Skimmed Yoghurt! You'd be ashamed to write the words!"
Birsel and Uzuner are fantastic as a prosecutor and a doctor. Were this a western movie those characters would be treated suspiciously, but in eastern culture educated people are respected not mistrusted. The working class cops have immense respect for these two and hang on their every word as did I.
There's some great macabre humour on display, particularly a moment where, dictating a crime scene report, Birsel describes the corpse as resembling Clark Gable. The onlooking cops break down laughing and it's a joyous moment that won't fail to raise a smile.
A diversion to a small village sees the local mayor ply them with food while bending the prosecutor's ear with tales of the economic state of his district. His pleas fall on deaf ears as the men are more interested in the food than village politics.
When the movie gets off the road in the final act it loses all momentum unfortunately. With someone to reign him in though, Ceylan could be a director to watch, though perhaps better suited to TV where he can let his stories breath.
Super Reviewer
½ January 14, 2012
"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" starts with Cemal(Muhammet Uzuner), a doctor, Naci(Yilmaz Erdogan), a commissar, and Nusret(Taner Birsel), a prosecutor, leading a caravan of eleven officials into the middle of night in the countryside in Turkey. What they would probably like most is to go back to bed or a even a nice cup of tea. Instead they are looking for a body, but Kenan(Firat Tanis), one of the suspects, has no idea where it is since he and his buddy were drunk at the time and everything looks the same in this beautifully filmed landscape. While Nusret is speculating about what happens if he goes back to Ankara empty handed, Naci and Cemal speculate about his prostate.

Sure, there are times here when it will seem like you stumbled into a Quentin Tarantino movie by accident, especially with its epic length and deliberate pacing, but there is more going on here than just a bleakly funny shaggy dog joke that goes on just long enough to answer one question and raising a whole bunch of others. The central issue that director Nuri Bilge Ceylan wonders about here is his home country of Turkey's possible place in the European Union and the answer is not exactly positive. Start with a small town and its misplaced priorities in building a first class morgue when it can not even manage its electricity needs successfully on a windy night.(Admittedly, this is a universal problem, as cities here in the United States build sports stadiums they can hardly afford while other much more important needs go by the wayside.) That's not to mention the other deeper problem of emigration and you start to wonder what Turkey's future might look like.
Super Reviewer
June 6, 2013
I see Wesley Morris' review and I love the sentiment - it is like reading a very good book in an uncomfortable chair. There are lots of interesting things in this film. The problem is that they occur over 157 minutes in a long drawn out process. It certainly tests patience.
Super Reviewer
April 30, 2012
What a feast for eyes and brain! This Turkish drama, co-written and directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan is based on the true experience of one of the film's writers, telling the story of a group of men who search for a dead body on the Anatolian steppe. No wonder that last year was a co-winner at the Cannes Film Festival.

One of the most immaculately developed screenplays I've ever experienced, starts with a night in which three men drink and talk and moves to a night where three cars carry a small group of men - police officers, a doctor, a prosecutor, grave diggers, gendarmerie forces, and two brothers, homicide suspects - around in the rural surroundings of the Anatolian town Keskin, in search of a buried body... I don't want to give away much of the story but in this film you'll have variety of topics so smoothly interwoven (yoghurt, lamb chops, urination, women, disability, death, suicide, hierarchy, bureaucracy, ethics, and their jobs) that you'll feel that you start to know these screen strangers who are slowly becoming a part of your life! Every wonderful shot was almost a story for itself while fitting the bigger picture without any interruption to the tempo of the story telling.

What a pleasure was to watch the performances of Muhammet Uzuner as Doctor Cemal, my favourite Yılmaz Erdoğan as Commissar Naci and always popular Taner Birsel as Prosecutor Nusret who together with the director Nuri Bilge Ceylan took us into the middle of the life of a small town and its specific mentality and hierarchy, while solving a crime! The filmmakers were successful in being as realistic as possible not missing to portray the special atmosphere of Anatolia, which leaves strong impressions on everyone who spent some time in that part of the world. I am a huge fan of Anton Chekhov and it was a pleasant surprise to find many quotations from his stories incorporated in the script.

If you are getting tired of Hollywood fabrications and you need some injection of reality with a flare try this daring screen art , do not miss this lengthy masterly portrait murder investigation story with so much in it!
Super Reviewer
February 25, 2013
Beautiful, but SUPER boring. Acutely slow and precise, Anatolia is an interesting piece that drinks deeply from the cup of malaise, taking a systematic view of the characters' dispositions. Every shot is meticulously framed and richly composed. While it should certainly be revered for its artistic deftness, "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" surely won't be confused for Law and Order--not the minutest detail is skipped. Therefore, it is often desperately slow, but it does provide patient viewers with consistently thought provoking ideas. Overall, I would not consider it a necessarily important film, but not a waste of time either; perhaps just a work to be admired.
Super Reviewer
May 22, 2012
For those that can sit through a 157 minute film of slow pace they will be greatly rewarded with impressive cinematography across some stunning landscapes, superb actors, and a profound, understated script. A subtle allegory from an accomplished filmmaker well worthy of his Cannes award for Best Director.
Super Reviewer
½ April 27, 2012
I am struggling to define this film as a genre; if I had to say it is a police procedural drama, but like one you would have never seen before. It is made with a neo-realist eye for it's characters and the eye of a skilled landscape painter for it's atmosphere. I have read critics saying that the second half fades, but I thought it was a moment for contemplation for both the characters and audience of what occurred in the first hour and forty.
I was really rattled by this film and want to watch it again pretty damn soon.
Super Reviewer
October 30, 2012
If there ever was a film that could succeed solely because of its cinematography, "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" would be that film. Each shot is beautiful, each image haunting, but outside of this near visual perfection, it's a tedious experience. You can feel each minute slowly pass, and unfortunately, there are 157 of them. The performances all seem in tune and I don't doubt the director's talent, but "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" isn't involving or relatively interesting.
½ December 9, 2015
Kind of just a slog for me, and the second half mostly felt like CSI: Turkey. A slow burn, definitely too slow of a burn for me. The movie never comes close to justifying its 150 minute run time to me. Has some beautiful landscapes and general photography, but never comes together for me cinematically.
January 21, 2012
a somber, slow burn of a crime drama set in the dusty turkish countryside. little to no action yet keen dialogue, performances, and observations that shed some dark universal light on this unforgiving world.
January 7, 2012
I don't know what the critics saw when they rated this movie so well, but it was a slow and painful ride around gorgeous countrysides with little redeeming value. The film trudges on one scene crawling after the next. Each walk across the street ticks off minutes from the clock with nothing to show but a crossed road. I was really hoping the story would pick up in the second half, but it didn't. This movie may only be watchable on a long plane ride across the Pacific.
April 1, 2012
A well-executed and well-acted crime procedural boasting some strong characters and great cinematography; a tight plot is maintained despite the long run-time, and humor is blended into the overall dark atmosphere quite effectively.
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