Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Written by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan and Ercan Keysal
The title of the latest offering from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan might indicate companionship with famous films from Sergio Leone or Hark Tsui that share a similar namesake, but don’t enter Once Upon a Time in Anatolia expecting action sequences, drifting loners or harmonicas. Ostensibly a road movie and character study, Ceylan’s film asks questions more likely to be found in an Errol Morris entry than a titular counterpart.
The characters are hard not to see as allegories. A doctor, a prosecutor, a police commissioner and a prisoner set out, along with a small convoy of army men and diggers (themselves caricatures in their
In many ways, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia recalls recent Romanian films like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu in its mix of dark humor and social commentary, set largely in culturally recognizable locations and taking place over a very enclosed time frame. Like what is sometimes deemed a “Romanian New Wave,” Ceylan’s film features dialogue that at times seems to sidetrack into digression, but which eventually plays as either character revelation or analysis of the given surroundings and situation.
But ultimately this is a film that seeks to differentiate fact and fiction – or perhaps posit that there can be little difference between the two. The prosecutor Nusret (Taner Birsel) tells Doctor Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner) a story about a woman who died because she said she was going to. The willing believer – the prosecutor – argues that no autopsy was necessary as it was evident she died from a heart attack. The skeptic – the doctor – sees things differently; something nearly undetectable could have triggered a reaction. This tale, returned to time and again, alongside the tireless, often fruitless search for the body, foregrounds the truth versus lie theme at play.
Try to guess who the protagonist is from the opening frame. Try halfway through. Try at the beginning of the final act. It’s nearly impossible. There
There’s a moral question that is posed in the final sequences of the film. It’s a question that hovers over the majority of the film, but is only truly expressed in the ending scene. It’s a perfect scene that simultaneously rejoices in youth, expresses regret for the past, and seeks to correct the future. Ceylan’s direction, spare, symbolic, and with finely detailed time shifts, allows the ending to breathe. For the patient audience it’s a heartfelt and rewarding conclusion.
– Neal Dhand