Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is a crime movie, but not as you know it, and as well as asking us to puzzle together fragments of a murder case, it also offers rich, and sometimes comic, ruminations on city, small-town and village attitudes, on cynical versus more feeling attitudes to life, on our ability to separate the personal and the professional and on the banalities that arises even in extreme, unusual situations. It might be about a murder, but it’s also about the passing of time (and, in a subtly different way, passing the time), and to stress both, Ceylan asks that we share nearly three hours with him and his film.
We follow a group of 12 men in three vehicles – policemen, soldiers, two suspects, a doctor, a prosecutor and two men with shovels – as they trawl the countryside at night looking for a buried body, trying and failing several times before they make some progress. One minute they’re looking for freshly dug earth, the next they’re discussing the merits of cheese or the tell-tale signs of prostate cancer. With two prisoners in tow, they make a pit-stop at a village where we get a naturalistic portrait of everyday relations and where small, endearing differences emerge between the town folk of the investigation and their rural hosts. Back on the road, Ceylan moves around characters, and sometimes leaves them behind altogether for some staggering landscape shots. Night becomes dawn, and only when it’s morning do they return to town and the final chapter of the film unfolds in a police station and doctor’s surgery.
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