"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" | Recounting Human Vulnerabilities
Perched on top of a hill, the camera covers a wide range of valleys and mountains of Anatolia at night. Tearing the darkness, a convoy of three cars, one with a beacon on top, with their headlights on approach the screen slowly from one side, following a serpentine mountain trail. The scene continues till the searching team comes nearer to the lens from where their conversation becomes audible. Framing characters encapsulated by the pristine nature in natural light is Turkish filmmaker, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s forte of cinematic expression. Ceylan, having nurtured his deep passion for photography in his early life, besides finishing his graduation in engineering, has grown up as an auteur who can act as well.
The Oscar-nominated film ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’, his sixth, avoids cliches of the usual crime drama and bears the rear action of filmmaking, mostly real-time sequence of events. So naturally, the film timing is larger with Anatolia. A Police Chief, a doctor, a prosecutor, and other functionaries of the system go out for a hunt of a buried corpse in the valley with two murder accused in handcuff. Collecting clues from the accused, the team searches the valley frantically through the night. After a couple of foiled attempts, they break for supper at a nearby hamlet and finally the body is discovered at the dawn. It is brought back to town for autopsy. Traveler’s several bouts of discussion in the meantime throw light on the socio-cultural background of the people of Anatolia. Ceylan creates and sustains the night atmosphere with jocularity, beauty and trepidation. As the journey progresses, the intrinsic human vulnerabilities of different strata of people are gradually exposed. Though the murder under scrutiny is the leitmotif of the film, revelation of another mysterious death, in the end, gives a real jolt to the viewers, questioning our moral fabric - Is ignorance bliss? In a never-ending search for truth, when a lie becomes inherently good than the truth? When a lie becomes mercy?
Cinematographer, Gokhan Tiryaki lights up the countryside so aesthetically that leaves a lasting impression long after the film ends. So is his brilliance of natural soundscape. Firat Tanis probably has given his best in the heart-wrenching role of the accused Kenan, followed by Yilmaz Erdogan, the eccentric police commissar Naci. The vain, ‘Clark Gable-ish’ prosecutor Nusret, played by Taner Birsel, the sad-eyed doctor Cemal, played by Mohammet Uzuner and Arab the irritating driver Ahmet Mumtaz Teylan convey the purities of the characters.
Ceylan’s characteristic slow-burning Anatolia is definitely a bit too much for the casual audience. One may also find the hamlet Chief’s daughter, Cemile’s entry is a little too dramatic and predictable but, the denouement offers remarkable enlightenment of Ceylan’s characters, both spiritually and intellectually.