“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” is not an easy watch.At a running length of 157 mins, you feel like tasting the best soup of your life while sitting in the most uncomfortable chair. You feel every passing second, like it is leisurely playing in front of your eyes. ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’ asks for tremendous patience, a well-rested mind, and meticulous observation skills to integrate meta-human drama & deep rooted metaphors. By the end, you are rewarded with a cinematic ‘masterpiece’ that has nothing substantial in its plot on the surface level, but still has everything you ask for in a movie.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan has the rare quality of a profound understanding of the human psyche during idle mind phase. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a gorgeously shot crime drama with densely layered characters that grow effortlessly & organically with time.
We see three vehicles traversing the barren land of Anatolia, and three pair of headlights piercing through the dark blanket of night over the hills of Anatolia, in search of a corpse. The three vehicles in themselves form a character carrying a bunch of agitated men that includes a young doctor, a public prosecutor, a police chief, cops, soldiers and two murderers who have confessed to their crimes. We soon realize that the search of the corpse in the dark is more inclined to the metaphorical zone than a literal one. It draws a parallel with each character having their own buried truths that never see light of demystifying them.
Time seems to have stopped (in a literal sense too), characters start wearing out, frustration starts to creep in among men; all because the killers were too drunk to recall where they buried the victim’s body. As they meander the gruesome terrain, they talk, they take a break and again indulge in long conversations. Then comes the interlude, and we again see the characters conversing in the mayor’s house in the nearby village where they have come for a meal. The characters attempt every possible thing to kill the dreadful silence. The principal conversations are between the prosecutor and the doctor as they travel from place to place, conversations that outline the characters of these two men: the accomplished ferreting nature of the prosecutor, the doctor’s store of discomfiting experiences.
The murder, the gruesome search, and the motive of the murder is just a decoy in this masterpiece by Ceylan. He is more concerned with the nature of men that gives them a chance for opening up without any judgement or repercussion. The interesting thing to notice is that the root of every discussion is based on ‘women’, like every other Ceylan’s film, where he weaves the story around men and women without any actual female as the principal character.
As much as Ceylan’s diligent screenplay & painstakingly beautiful characterization of each character are worth applauding, credit also goes to cinematographer ‘GökhanTiryak’. GökhanTiryaki moves the camera with such elegance that it captures the eerie and the thrill in the rightful amount to maintain the dramatic tension throughout. Like when we see the chief & a driver along with the doctor & another cop sitting in the car, in the natural light, but one of the murder suspects is sitting muted in dark for a brief amount of time. All the four characters are discussing on a trivial topic, but you clearly sense the horror of something going awry.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is an adult fairy tale that meditates on human nature in the idle phase of minds.