The Culture Blog on Film…’Once upon a time in Anatolia’

Cert (UK): 15

Runtime: 157 mins

Directors: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Cast: Firat Tanis, Muhammet Uzuner, Taner Birsel, Yilmaz Erdogan



Nuri Bilge Ceylan has been described as an artistic genius, having developed an interest in photography from the age of 15, his films have been described as ‘high art’. Indeed Once upon a time in Anatolia is a work of art, perhaps best related to a Damien Hirst, something that will allow us to discuss, debate, whine and ponder. This film is not for everyone. A blunt statement that may seem clichéd, but I am absolutely certain that this film will divide viewers.

Overall nothing seems to happen in the film. The plot anchors itself with the search for a corpse, through the guidance of two prisoners guarded and led by police officers, the state prosecutor, and a medical examiner. They lead them into the eerie expanse of the Anatolian steppe: the plain where Asia reaches west into Iran, Armenia and Turkey. It is here whereby the majority of the film takes place. The use of the vast landscape is cinematographic genius; deserted plains, embellished with luscious greens allow the landscape to act as a symbol for the veritable hopelessness of the journey.

The team (including the murder suspects) is forced to work through the night, allowing tempers to be tested and rationality to be rendered senseless. Yet these are the moments in the film whereby the obvious drama comes to a diminuendo and is mottled in what seem to be irrelevant absurdities. Yet despite their absurdness, the various comments made, (particularly that of the prosecutor’s likeness to Clark Gable) add to their questioning of their lives, and most importantly the emptiness of their own lives.

Ceylan however has seemed to have made the mistake of timing, the film runs for two hours and thirty seven minutes long, and at times the elongated script seems to rely on brief instances of humour to break up the long instances whereby Ceylan relies heavily on his various artistic methods from the atmospheric silences, which become haunting emblems of the spiritual and physical quest they are all on, to the use of regular shots of characters from the back, to add the sense of an enclosed, claustrophobic space contrasting with the vast landscape.

Whilst there is no doubt that Ceylan has produced a visual masterpiece of a raw and arid land that is symbolic of the torment of human emotion, it seems though that Ceylan has dressed the piece with questionable methods. The sluggish core of the plot seems to feel comfortable depending on the subtle instances of beauty and nuance that unfortunately do not compensate for the overall puzzlement that the audience is faced with. To commend Ceylan is apt, but I do not feel is his not his best work to date, Anatolia does not match up to ‘Distances’ and ‘Three Monkeys’, but has allowed Ceylan to show his artistic prowess once again, and that certainly does deserve praise.


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