Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (15)

Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Stars: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan. Firat Tanis and Taner Birsel

Turkish cinema has been quietly producing some outstanding films over the last decade, with a number of impressive Turkish directors making movies today. Leading the way is Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who has made his name through films such as Distant and Three Monkeys, garnering a multitude of awards along with critical acclaim. His latest work, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, promises to elevate him to one of the greats of modern cinema.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia opens in the dead of night, with a convey of cars driving around the Anatolian countryside trying to locate a body. Kenan (Tanis) has confessed to the murder, but due to being drunk, is having difficulty remembering where the body is. The team, lead by a police commissioner (Erdogan), a prosecutor (Birsel) and a doctor (Uzuner), are tasked with locating the bodies with the help of Kenan. As the night draws out, further details emerge which effect the group’s relationships, leading them all to question themselves; their inner-demons reflected in the darkness of the night.

The night scenes in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia are by far and away the most impressive direction and cinematography I’ve seen in modern cinema. It is more of a work of art than a film, with the rugged countryside of Anatolia providing a canvass for the creation of a master craftsman. Watercolours and oils being replaced by a camera lens. In a film reminiscent of Tarkovsky at his height, Ceylan produces a sequence of events layered with gravitas and a quiet splendour. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a film with a dreamlike quality, allied with poetic imagery and unnamed evil; the Anatolian night providing the soundtrack. After scenes lit predominantly by the beam of headlights, the coming of dawn jars the viewer awaken from a meditative trance.

A strong cast adds gravitas to the subtle script; Uzuner’s portrayal as a doctor stands out as a paragon of virtue against the inner darkness of the other leads. A distinct undertone flows through this police procedural, raising more questions than on the surface it answers. The subtleties of the dialogue, and the relevance of seemingly innocuous scenes, hit you long after the credits. The discovery of the body does not lay this case to rest.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is the kind of film Terrance Malick wishes he could still make; subtle, poetic and haunting. It is a slow-burning, brooding tale, undoubtedly a masterpiece of modern film-making.

Playing at the Showroom Cinema now http://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/onceuponatimeinanatolia