The Wind Will Tarry Us
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)
In the beginning, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” seems to signal a major departure for Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan. With its lush, warm colors and timeless fable-like quality, the film is at first glance nothing like Mr. Ceylan’s meditations on urban alienation. In a long shot, golden headlight beams sweep through the darkness and ignite the Anatolian steppe like comets in the night sky. A caravan of cars wriggles across the hilly countryside amid stops that are virtually indistinguishable from each other as if in an Abbas Kiarostami movie, carrying cops, a prosecutor, a doctor, a few gendarmes, some gravediggers and a pair of murder suspects searching in vain for a corpse. They argue, wax poetic and bond in the course of the twilight-zone journey. But once they unearth the body, it finally becomes apparent that Mr. Ceylan is treading familiar territory after all.
Once again, Mr. Ceylan depicts a particularly homosocial male universe where men and women just don’t mix. The few women who do appear seem to be angelic figures that are on a metaphysical plane above the men. The doctor, Dr. Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner), only emerges as the protagonist during the second half of the film, but he is unmistakably Mr. Ceylan’s creation in his solidary existence and ethical quandary. The film curiously juxtaposes the noble white lie by the suspects, Kenan (Firat Taniş) and Ramazan (Burhan Yildiz), with the guilty-conscience white lie by the prosecutor Nusret (Taner Birsel) and the obstruction-of-justice white lie by Dr. Cemal. What’s especially patronizing is the fact that two of the lies serve to protect women, and the other a dimwit.
At 150 minutes, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” feels like a bit a mess. For the initiated, it’s as if co-writers Ebru Ceylan, Ercan Kesal and Mr. Ceylan had set out to do something wholly original, ran out of steam halfway and then resorted to the proven formula. The fact that its weighty central dilemma comes off as an afterthought only makes matters worse. While Gökhan Tiryaki’s cinematography is phenomenal, the film is, at its best, a wasted opportunity.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA
Opens on Jan. 4, 2012 in New York and on March 16, 2012 in Britain.
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan; written by Ercan Kesal, Ebru Ceylan and Nuri Bilge Ceylan; director of photography, Gokhan Tiryaki; edited by Bora Goksingol and Nuri Bilge Ceylan; art direction by Dilek Yapkuoz Ayaztuna; produced by Zeynep Ozbatur Atakan; released by the Cinema Guild (United States) and New Wave Films (Britain). In Turkish, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 37 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Muhammet Uzuner (Doctor Cemal), Yilmaz Erdogan (Commissar Naci), Taner Birsel (Prosecutor Nusret), Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan (Driver Arab Ali), Firat Tanis (Suspect Kenan) and Ercan Kesal (Mukhtar).