BY RICK JACKSON
There is a scene in Once Upon A Time In Anatolia when a character says to another how much he looks like Clark Gable. It left me thinking what this has to do with the plot itself which is, ultimately, nothing. However, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan may actually have made a movie in tribute to the Hollywood crime films of the 1930s. This is not to say his latest directorial effort has merit, because it does without question. The details in assessing the crime that slowly unfolds within the story's simple structure is disguised by a singular attitude punctuated by the undercurrent of humour as if this was a Turkish version of a Humphrey Bogart film, for example, in Casablanca where Bogart is cynical of human nature and doesn't trust the ethics of anyone and to ensure he makes it, he looks out for himself. When you remember Bogart's tough guy roles, he was creating a figure of masculinity underneath the tender side he showed in Casablanca.
This brings me to Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, a fable set in the reality and mindset of a murder which is resoundingly like it came from Raymond Chandler's Farewell My Lovely.
The police, doctor, and criminal also show a side of human nature that is not uncommon. When you don't understand a motive or reason for not doing something, you have a tendency to laugh or make a joke because it relieves the tension and it leaves you thinking more of the reality behind the elementary aspects of the crime, such as how the body was disposed of, and why it happened. These questions form the basis of the film's priority as entertainment and from this perspective you learn more about the director's point of view in making a movie that has profound sense of simplicity, and where you are forced to think a little more thanks to the cast whose acting makes it easier to comprehend on a superficial level: why would someone want to kill an innocent man and rob his wife of enjoying the life they shared. When she comes to identify her husband, her lack of emotion shows how much they didn't love each other and may have had another fight but this time it ended differently.
In the screenplay by Nuri Bilge and Ebvril Ceylan and Ercan Kesal, the main characters are prosecutor Nugvet (Taner Birsel), Dr. Cemal (Muhammet Uzunero), police chief Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan) and the murder suspect Kenan (Firat Tanis). They provide the film with its central focus when trhey interact with each other and, at the same time, build up a case which is standard for a film of this type but extraordinary in the way it is presented by the sheer weight of the director and cinematographer's visual style that may appear to be predictable but, in essence, it is an absorbing story that never loses your attention thanks to the close-up and wide shots that reveal the meticulous police work reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel or film and the French film classic Garde A Vue where the police are consistently clamoring to get at the truth.
As you watch the police conduct their investigation in Ceylan's movie, it is the painstaking rhythm and decency toward the victim that allows you to become part of everything as if you are an intrepid detective.
Cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki maintains a firm footing in symbolizing the wide empty landscape to the killer whose skill is avoiding the real place where he hid the body. Without it, there is no case and Tanis shows a sense of calm to keep you wondering if he actually did it. His hesitation along with his questions lend enough credence to come to the conclusion he may have had help and his timidity lets you feel sorry for him.
The killer's conscience is working against him in two key scenes as a clever use of dramatic irony withouteven a hint he did it in the first place. However, the empty expressions he gives makes you think he doesn't care and it heightens your curiosity more with each succeeding minute.
How the screenwriters try to throw you off in a different direction with the conversation about a woman's death invites you to draw comparison to the current case. For a third time you begin to think if the body was deliberately buried when the autopsy shows sand in some its cavities. They are shown absently and without concern until you see the reactions to these findings on the characters' faces and it sends you out of the theatre reeling in a way that makes you ask yourself what really happened.
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is a film where the urgency of each moment from the very beginning drives the plot threads in directions where the story is second to the characters from beginning to end. The main characters are anathematic to the story you are compelled to watch because you want to know the desperate details the screenwriters leave out. This is not a neatly packaged Hollywood film where everything gets sorted out by film's end. Its impact on you the moviegoer is from the director's point of view as a cathartic experience which is peculiarly evident.
It is rated 14A, with the warning: coarse language.
May 26, 2012
Copyright Rick Jackson 2012