Toronto International Film Festival 2011

'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia'

by Stuart Henderson

13 September 2011

A languid, patience-testing three-hour police procedural that spends its entire first 90 minutes in the literal (and, of course, figurative) dark, this one is not for everyone.
 

ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Cast: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan,Taner Birsel, A. Mumtaz Taylan,Ercan Kesal
Country: Turkey / Bosnia and Herzegovina

A languid, patience-testing three-hour police procedural that spends its entire first 90 minutes in the literal (and, of course, figurative) dark, this one is not for everyone. Indeed, the Cannes press crowd was divided about this picture, and there were reports of derisive laughter and sarcastic applause when, about 100 minutes in, the first real plot point was uncovered. No, there isn’t much story—and what story there is is yours to tease out of the thing since little of significance is ever spoken aloud—and much of the film demands you to become as tired and frustrated as the police on their endless all-night search for a buried body in the Anatolian hillsides. But, if you stick it out, you may just find that you’ve seen among the more memorable pictures of the year.
  
Featuring stunning photography, extraordinary lighting, and a sneakily cryptic script, this great film plays like a flower wrapped tightly in its bud. Quietly asking big questions about modern legal bureaucracy, increasing and widespread poverty across rural Turkey, the diminished role of women in this once secular country, and the horror and burden of guilt, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia will stay with you long after the lights have come up. But what really happened? Who was the real killer, and why did they do it? Does any of that even matter now that a child has no father, and a wife no husband?

 

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