Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2012)

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia[This is a review of the film, not the Blu-Ray itself, which has not yet been released.]

A beautifully shot, deliberately paced existentialist meditation on crime, relationships, and truth. Shot mostly in gorgeous long takes that take full advantage of the widescreen aspect ratio, the film requires (and rewards) patient viewing. The first half of the film, in which a late-night caravan of law enforcement officials drive two murder suspects to a series of nearly identical rural wells, looking for the location of a buried body, is brilliant. It echoes Waiting for Godot, as the seemingly endless search for the body fades into the background, and the focus turns to conversations about personal problems, petty bureaucracy, differing values, and the meaning of life. As the film continues, different members of the caravan wax and wane in importance, each offering a different perspective on life and one's place in the world. The final act of the film -which occurs back in town the following day -drags a bit, but contains powerful revelations.

Despite it's subtle metaphysical explorations, this film is also a highly realistic police procedural. It is very faint praise to say that this film is the anti-CSI, but it's cynical views of truth and justice contrast starkly with TV procedurals. A vain prosecutor basks in his role and makes up facts for convenience, no one has remembered to bring a body bag (or a hearse) for the corpse, the gendarmes are more concerned about where municipal boundaries fall than anything else, a critical medical discovery is fudged, there are rumors the murder victim has been seen alive in neighboring towns, and nothing is wrapped up in an hour, let alone 150 minutes...

This is a film for patient viewers who enjoy the liesurely-paced works of Malick, von Trier, Kiarostami, Tarkovsky or other auteurs of so-called Contemporary Contemplative Cinema.

Anatolia is not an easy film, and those expecting a mystery will probably be disappointed. It is a dark, atmospheric movie--the night scenes are claustrophobic and spattered with little beauties; the dialog is at times funny (especially during a heated argument about yogurt), but as the story progress it becomes oppressive (intentionally, I think). The landscape, which is often mentioned in reviews, is not necessarily beautiful, but desolate and repeating, marked by landmarks which are almost indiscernible from one another, especially in the dark (this old bridge, or that one, this fountain or that one, this plowed field or that plowed field). In the end, I found the movie difficult to sit through, almost exhausting, and I think much of the meaning is to be found the critique of language, and its place in the process of law and order in this small Turkish community. I felt like I was supposed to understand what being a man or woman means in this narrative (gender seems important, and desire), but I come up without any surprising answers to that question. In fact, the film doesn't reach many conclusions, and outside of a scene where the search party is served tea, by the beautiful daughter of a local village head, there weren't many moments in Anatolia where it felt like there was something really glimmering below the surface. It is an interesting film, and all the performances are strong. It is less eventful, grittier, and more cerebral than I thought it would be. I will probably watch it again.

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It is by complete coincidence that only 3 months ago, I watch one of director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's earlier movies, the beautiful "Climates" movie from 2007, on DVD (see my review posted here on Amazon). When I saw that his latest movie hit the theatre, I couldn't wait to see it (saw it the Landmark E Street theatre in Washington).

"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" (2011 release from Turkey; 150 min.) bring the (apparently based on true events) story of a group of men trying to finish off a murder investigation by locating the body of the victim in the Anatolian region of Turkey. The movie starts at dusk and covers the next 24 hrs. The group (traveling in 3 cars) go from one geographic area to the next as the confessed killer tries to remember where exactly he buried the victim, but he has trouble recalling the exact setting, as he was drunk when he murdered the victim. But eventually, they come to the right spot. The body is taken to the village for a final autopsy. I am leaving some details out, but that is pretty much the main story of the movie. Generally, I don't post the entire plot of the movie in my reviews but I make an exception here, because the story line is not the main point of the movie. Indeed, the movie is instead a study of characters, and simply observes. Check out the scene where, when the group takes a break and has dinner in a local outpost, the beautiful teenage daughter of the houselord brings out tea for the group. That scene alone (which probably takes about 10 min. or so) is worth watching the movie for in and of itself, just outstanding.

I don't know how well this movie will translate onto DVD as seeing it in the theatre transfixes you on the incredible job that Ceylan does in bringing this character study into focus, and the Anatolian scenry plays a huge part in the movie and surely will get lost some on the small screen. With this movie, Ceylan takes "slow developing" to another level, but I thought it worked beautifully. This movie was a co-winner of the Grand Prix at the 2011 Cannes film festival (the other winner being Belgium's Le Gamin au Velo, check out that movie too!). Bottom line, this movie is MILES away from your standard Hollywood fare, and then some. But if you like a good slow-developing character study movie, by all means check this out!

Read Best Reviews of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2012) Here

A unique group of men with a murder suspect among them are driving together in a car in the middle of the night, just using their headlights to search for a corpse. The murder suspect states that he was drunk, and didn't remember where he buried the body. During the course of the evening, secrets are revealed among the group, bringing many more questions to light after finding the victim. Acting performance is Superb, the mystery of the murder and all evidence found through investigation was very interesting and you waited with a curious mind to find out final conclusions. Thrilling, images are fantastic in scenes, and this is one I'd watch again. Highly Recommended for all mystery lovers!

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I really appreciated the night photography of lights and shadows in the first half of the film. It was beautiful and soulful, though very slow and lingering. This is the photographer in me writing and the main reason for wanting to rate it high. The photography in the second half in daylight was just fine and interesting, but not exceptional as in the first.

This film was very slow and I think culturally imbedded and best for the "foreign film" audience and not just the "art film" audience. I had a lot of trouble relating to small town Turkey and I am sure I missed a great deal that I wanted to understand about the story itself. Part of that was that a lot was going on in people's faces as they talked and I needed to read the subtitles while they were talking and so could not pay as much attention to their expressions as the words were spoken as I felt I needed to.

Yet I think enough did get through about rural Turkish sociology and psychology that the film was satisfactory and instructive even if I missed a lot of the implied reality beneath the surface. And I think that was one point of the film -that there are layers of reality hidden beneath endless formalities and efforts to be polite. As in poetry, a lot is left to the subverbal insights of the reader/viewer. This film was quite poetic in this sense, in my opinion.

People were endlessly preoccupied with the "form" of things and how they should do this and that and what they should say and write and always looking to authority. And yet it was clear, to me at least, that this was in a sense "adaptive" in that it allowed them to just get on with lives that were commonly beneath it all sad, boring, confusing, and uncertain.

I would just be guessing about what actually was going on under the surface in terms of "plot" or "story." Part of my own difficulty is that the interactions were subtle and at critical points I was not sure if I should trust the translations in the subtitles. Maybe all this would not even be clear for all I can say if I were a Turkish viewer. Actually I doubt that even for sophisticated movie-going Turks this is a "mystery movie" in the American sense where a mystery is revealed and clues all fit together by the end, at least with a little thought or conversation over strong coffee after leaving the theatre. So I am not going to share my guesses here, because I am tending right now to think they (any!)would be idle speculation. A Turkish viewer might be able to say for certain that there was an obvious solution to "the mystery."

But I do think -right now -that this was more a portrait and a meditation. I can best appreciate it if I look at it this way. It will stick in my mind as such.

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