Danijel's Review of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the best known Turkish director around, came to Cannes last year with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, his longest running film to date, and took home the Grand Prix. According to the director, the story is based on real events which took place some 25 years ago. The producer, who also plays the part of the vilage mayor, told the story to him, and two of them, togethar with Ceylan's wife wrote the script. It turned into a mentaly exhausting piece of work, in the best way possible, with a tendency to keep that impact for some time after the conclusion.
It's a film of peculiar structure. The title and the location point out to a variation on western genre; on the other hand, the artistic persistence, for the most part, reminded me on Antoninoni striped down of all the glamour.
Turkey this movie gives us somwhere far in the background is one trying to reach a bar set high by few countries which call themselves "The Europe" (don't limit yourself geographically in naming them) to the rest of the continent. In the forefront, there is probably the largest, most literal investigation I ever saw on film. It includes several people who take a suspected killer out to the countryside where he burried the body. It looks like there was some kind of an arrangement in which he promissed them he will point out the exact place, but now he has some problems locating it. After some time, three characters emerge as central to the story: police chief, the doctor and the prosecutor. The killer is almost always somewhere in the frame, looking scared, weary and haunted, maybe even by something more than the crime.
The film shows us procedure breaking down individuals who are doomed to live their lives in - between formalities. When I say doomed, I do realize they have a power of choice. But, as time goes by, it becomes harder to assess when to plug out. A little more down the line, the real question becomes "how" to do that. The point Ceylan is trying to make might be directly connected to the fact that there is no clear division as to when the action takes place. Usually, night shows the people little out of balance. That's not the time to work. Here, night turns into day almost unawares. They just keep on finishing the job without showing any difference. It makes you wonder how do they behave when they come home? Do they even have a place they can call by that name? The very effective sad irony of the picture is that one of them gradually discovers a hearbreaking truth precisely while doing something which made him so depersonalized, using the techniques he acquired on the job.
Aside from working together on the case, they all have at least one more thing in common: applying logic to what they do. The nature of their work requires them having to have solution for every situation they encounter. If a crime is commited, there has to be a criminal; if someone is accused there has to be an answer wheather he is guilty or not; if someone dies, that happened because of one specific reason. Ceylan, with all of the cautiosness in the world, allows us to gasp the reprecussions of noumerous occasions they had to give those kinds of explanations whether they liked it or not.
I'm still not sure about the last half hour. The movie works on our need to discover. It is structured that way. My interpretation from above may differ completely from what the next guy has to say. That's why the director's need to close the circle, while certanly well grounded in the first two hours, ends the picture on a more final note than I expected. His desire to make the film as bulletproof as possible narrowed the entrence for the imagination of the audience. Then again, he is the only one who had the chance to make his take on the story come alive. It's hard to blame him too much for doing so.