Film review: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia



I remember begging to go along with my dad and one of his friends on a trip to rescue a stranded coworker late one night. It was an adventure riding along in the backseat, listening to the men talk as we headed somewhere I'd never been before. Traveling in the wee hours made the drive seem exotic. Most of the conversation was mundane, but I struggled to keep paying attention, because every so often they would discuss something fascinating. For them, the trip was a chore they felt bound to complete. For me, it was a journey into another world.

Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia invites you to ride along with a police chief, some officers and soldiers, a prosecutor, a doctor and two confessed murderers on a late night search for a body. For the film to work, you have to put yourself in the proper frame of mind. The story is 2 hours and 37 minutes long and the conversations blend the ordinary with the exceptional. Be patient, because this is a long drive. Visit the restroom before you settle in your seat. Be aware, your attention will likely wander as the men converse, but don't let yourself disconnect from the experience. Something will be said that will perk you up again.

You'll hear a story told by the prosecutor (Taner Birsel) about a healthy young pregnant woman who correctly predicts the time of her death. The doctor (Muhammet Uzuner) will puzzle over the tale throughout the night. There is a stop at a tiny village to get a bite to eat. A beautiful young woman serves tea in silence. The men ponder her future when they depart. Morning finally arrives along with harsh realities, revelations and the consideration of an ethical dilemma.

While the men discuss everything from relationships to prostrate exams to the murder case, enjoy the gorgeous camera work, which turns the headlight-illuminated drive through the night into something mysterious and enticing. Whatever happens, remember that you don't get to go on rides like this very often. Drink it all in.


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