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Late one night, an group of men - a police commissioner, a prosecutor, a doctor, a murder suspect and others - pack themselves into three cars and drive through Turkey's Anatolian countryside across serpentine roads and rolling hills - searching for a body. The suspect claims he was drunk and can't quite remember where the body is buried. Field after field, they dig but discover only dirt. As the night draws on, tensions escalate, and individual stories slowly emerge from the weary small talk of the men. Nothing here is simple, and when the body is found, the real questions begin.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Imagine a police procedural taken out of its Hollywood setting and transplanted into the empty wilds of Anatolia, the Turkish equivalent of the old American west, with the genre itself reconstructed as a sort of 'arthouse opaque noir'. Filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, bespectacled, neat looking man who - in a suit - could pass for any sort of professional or executive, has won more awards and nominations than you can poke a stick at. This film joins his trophy room with the prestigious Grand Prix from Cannes (2011) and the directing prize at last year's Asia Pacific Screen Awards held in Queensland, where it was also nominated for Best Film and Best Script.

The film's most potent power comes from its restraint: it reveals very little as it takes us on the road in the middle of an unfriendly night, as a team of police and other officials look for a corpse buried somewhere out there. Along with them are two suspects, indeed, the confessed killers. They were too drunk to remember where they left the victim's body. This sets up the film's tension string, which Ceylan holds in a firm grip throughout, even while the dialogue and action are hardly focused on the search - more on the interaction of the men forced to join the search.

Cinematic skills are required to achieve this sort of sleight of hand, magic that spills out of a deep understanding first of human nature, to provide the material, and secondly of how to manipulate audiences - meant in the most positive sense.

Although the film looks as if the filmmakers simply followed the events with a camera, every detail is carefully planned and shot, to deliver a combination of intrigue, observation and expectation. It's a unique film that is best enjoyed knowing very little about it - so go and take a look.

Review by Louise Keller:
Mesmerising cinema unfolds in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, as Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan paints imagery through a jigsaw examining the human condition. The narrative is about murder and most of the film takes place as the search for a body is carried out. The two suspects accused of the crime are leading the police prosecutor and his team to the crime site - in the middle of nowhere.

But Ceylan's film, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2011, is much more than a search for a body. Eternal truths about life, death, men, women and adultery are revealed in an unconventional story structure that is told backwards. There are long sequences with silences and few words, just as there are scenes in which the trivial is bantered about with as much conviction as the profound. The remote setting is beautifully portrayed, leaving the viewer with an indelible picture of a landscape that is as unforgiving as the people that live within it.

The film begins by showing shapes and light through a frosted glass window. As the camera comes closer, we can see more clearly: a light and shapes are slowly revealed. Three men are eating and drinking over conversation. A television plays in the background. We do not hear their conversation and the sounds are muffled. One man walks to the window pane and peers out. There is peel of thunder. A dog barks. The man opens the front door of the house, and feeds the dog that is tied on a rope. A truck drives past. This is indicative of the kind of imagery that is in store in Ceylan's intriguing statement of observation.

It is sunset and the beauty of the sky's orange horizon is clearly seen on a vast landscape. The headlights of three vehicles shine brightly along the winding road of the harsh, isolated landscape. It is some minutes before we see the faces of the men whose detached conversations we hear. Gradually, we learn that that the bearded suspect in handcuffs is leading the team to an unknown site. They are a looking for a round tree. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Love Story plays on the car radio. They talk about buffalo yoghurt and other things. The convoy of cars drives impatiently from one site to the next. Tempers fray. The moon crosses the sky; the wind rustles in the long yellow grass. They go to a local village for a meal.

There's a conversation about being ruthless and taking matters into your own hands. There's another that suggests if there is trouble, there's always a woman involved. But it is the conversation between the Prosecutor and the Doctor that grabs our attention as he puzzles about the instance of a gorgeous woman who predicts her own death. How can someone die for no reason? The Doctor cannot get it out of his mind, arguing that there always has to be a reason for death. These are the issues that stick in our mind as the narrative plays out, with all the details of the search and the findings being mechanically recorded. This is a film that deserves your attention. It may be slow and the plot points obtuse, but the rewards are great.

Published October 3, 2012

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(Turkey, 2011)

Bir zamanlar Anadolu'da

CAST: Mohammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Tanr Birsel, Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan, Firat Tanis, Ercan Kesal, Erol Erarsian, Ugur Aslanoglu,

PRODUCER: Zeynep Ozbatur Atakan

DIRECTOR: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

SCRIPT: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan, Ercan Kesal



RUNNING TIME: 150 minutes






DVD RELEASE: October 3, 2012

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