Sunday, July 27, 2014

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da; drama/ crime, Turkey/ Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2011; D: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, S: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel, Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan

Three police vans are roaming across the Anatolian landscape one night in search for a corpse. The convoy is overseen by Dr. Cemal, district attorney Nusret and police commissioner Naci, who listen to instructions of two suspects who confessed the murder of a man, but forgot where exactly they buried him. The vans thus travel at various locations, but do not find anything, so they stop by for a drink in a local village. In the morning, they manage to find the location and the corpse. They transport the corpse to the local hospital and stop the people from lynching the suspect. During the autopsy, Cemal ignores a finding of a cruel death and observes kids through the window.

"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" starts out great and refreshingly 'low key', since its first 50 minutes revolve only around three police vans straying across a provincial landscape, trying to pinpoint the place where two suspects allegedly buried a corpse - its minimalist touch, aesthetic mood (the cars drive at night), untypical situations (commissioner Naci wonders why the second police car is not moving in front of him, until the driver in it tells him that they should lead the convoy instead, because he is not familiar with the roads in the area) and wonderful shot compositions reach almost the heights of "Blood Simple" and easily give the film momentum. Unfortunately, instead of naturally continuing with such a strong vibe, "Anatolia" simply gives up and just spends the rest of the film in "empty walk": the next 50 minutes, where the police officers babble too much about nothing in the village, is already losing focus, while the last 50 minutes just waste the viewer's time since they do not add anything new to the overall narrative - the scenes of Dr. Cemal walking through the streets and the attorney talking endless, dry bureaucratic formalities about the corpse in the hospital are bland. The shot compositions in the second and third half are still good, but not great, nor that exciting to carry the whole film. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan may have aimed at showing "24 hours in a local police station", and managed to give a good, cozy and unassuming little portrait of it, yet only the first "8 hours" were interesting enough to be up to the task.


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