Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am


In 2008, Nuri Bilge Ceylan delivered his most accessible film to date, Three Monkeys.

It was a contrast to the earlier films with which he made his name on the festival circuit - such as Clouds of May, about a film director's return to his home village looking for a story, or Distant, which documents the festering relationship between an urbanite and his visiting country-bumpkin cousin. Three Monkeys surprised many for the presence of a narrative (the impact of a hit-and-run on a family) and a handful of film noir markers (the killing, the cover-up, the femme fatale and the act of revenge). The Turkish filmmaker secured a best director award at the Cannes Film Festival, but the film met with mixed reviews. Many lamented the incompatibility of Ceylan's trademark slow-burn style with the conventions of genre films.

Three years later, Ceylan was back with another award winner at Cannes and, again, an attempt to mix his unique artistic vision with genre conventions. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia sees the filmmaker tilting the balance heavily towards the former, as if in reaction to the criticism of Three Monkeys.

The premise of this police procedural is simple enough: for one night, a group of detectives travel around the remote countryside to search for the corpse of the victim in a homicide. Complicating things, however, is that the murder suspect can't remember where he dumped the body. So he and the policemen go from one place to another for the film's first 11/2 hours, before the story begins inching forward to its next phase, which sees the detectives bringing the body back to the coroners in Istanbul, where the suspect briefly comes face to face with his victim's family.

Ceylan is less interested in the crime than with exposing the social malaise of modern-day Turkish society. That is manifested through many conversations as the characters drive along country roads, wait for instructions in a field, or carry out the autopsy on the recovered corpse.

Frivolous banter about things such as buffalo-milk yogurt are interwoven with graver discussions about justice, the rat race and patriarchy before ending with a denouement that offers a devastating damnation of the inhumanity which has become the norm.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Nov 5, 4.45pm, IFC; Nov 8, 9.30pm, Broadway The One