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Friday, 10 August 2012

DVD - Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Star rating – 9/10

On paper this film, just out on DVD, shouldn’t work – over two and a half hours long, nothing much happens, no soundtrack, and no real back story to the crime it deals with. But it is really gripping, and its slow pace belies a profundity that is a delight to watch.

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has crafted a modern masterpiece in this story of the events of a single night and following day. A crime has been committed. We know this from the convoy of three police vehicles wending their way through the barren countryside under cover of darkness. In the cars there is a police chief, a prosecutor, a doctor and some diggers – along with two suspects who are being asked to recall the whereabouts of a body they have obviously murdered and buried. It put me unsettlingly in mind of the Moors Murderers being taken back to Saddleworth Moor to try to identify the spot where they buried their young victims. 

But these men are not painted as particularly evil criminals. The motive for the crime is never really spelled out, just hinted at along the way. They are unkempt, sorry creatures as they take the search party to one isolated spot after another. The landscape is so sparse that it must be difficult to remember – or are they deliberately frustrating their captors. It’s difficult to tell. But the length of time it takes allows for tremendous characterisation to be built.

Whilst the search is going on, in between some of the more mundane conversation between the officials, parts of their exchanges are delightfully revealing. The Police Chief is a man of refined tastes, and tells of his great love of buffalo yogurt, which is apparently very rare, and his mobile ring tone is a nice romantic touch - the theme from Love Story. The task feels interminably long to the participants, but not to the viewer, as the black night gives way to various philosophical discussions and debates. In particular the discussion of the death of a beautiful woman between the cynical young doctor (Muhammet Uzuner), and the distinguished prosecutor (Taner Birsel), which they return to repeatedly over the long hours, is brilliant and achingly sad.

Ceylan has confidently created a slow, measured, yet deeply moving film. The bleak landscape is an evocative backdrop for this tale, which reminded me of a brilliant Chekhov short story in its intensity and ability to capture so much in so short a time span.

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