This is my first encounter with work from Turkish director Nuri Bige Ceylan, and one of my first with the Turkish cinema, most of my previous experiences were with films made by Turkish directors living in Europe (Germany especially) and dealing with the lives of the communities of exiles and their relations to the society around and the one back home. ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’ has a 100% focus on the life of a remote community in the hills of Anatolia, far not only from Europe but also from the lives of the majority of the Turks in big cities like Istanbul or Ankara. The subject however does touch the relation with Europe and with the modern society as it describes a police and judicial procedure of reconstructing a crime committed in a setting that does not seem to have changed too much for many decades or even centuries, with the evolving tools of the modern state.




Interestingly this beautiful film brought up to me similarities with the Romanian cinema, another ‘peripheral’ movement in the landscape of European cinema which saw a breakthrough and underwent the experience being ‘discovered’ in the last decade by art film festivals. The subject and even the style reminds the – maybe – best film in the history of Romanian cinema – ‘Reconstituirea’ by Lucian Pintilie, also a story of a process of justice slowly developing in a natural landscape, with the focus more on the souls of the heroes than on the action itself. The attention paid by the director on his characters, the deepness of the psychological analysis, and the excellent support of the actors look very much like some of the best products of the ‘new wave’. In the case of ‘Once Upon the Time in Anatolia’ the three principal characters (the police chief, the public investigator, the doctor) enjoy all splendid performances from the three actors – Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel. As the story develops we learn more and more about the characters, their personal stories and their fears, their hidden secrets.



(video source CinemaGuild)


The story development is slow, and whoever has expectations for detective action should pick a different movie. This film is about men living in a remote place, their lives and emotions, their relation with nature and with the society around them which is not immune to change, but changes come at its own pace. The rhythm of the film borrows something from that pace, viewers need to be warned and ready to pay the price of some patience, but those who will do it will be highly rewarded.