#352: Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (2012)


There are not enough superlatives in the world that would let me aptly describe Once Upon a Time In Anatolia. A Grand Jury prize winner at Cannes, the sixth feature from Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a deeply involving existential crime-drama. Both bleak and beautiful, the picture is just so rich, the words so stunning and the acting beyond comparison.

At it’s crudest, Once Upon a Time In Anatolia is a film about redemption, mercy and misery. It starts at dusk, with a group of men venturing into the Turkish countryside to find the body of a murder victim. It’s an odd group, comprised of a police chief and his officers, a public prosecutor, a doctor, some diggers, guards, the confessed killer Kenan (Ferat Tanis) and his mentally challenged younger brother, Ramazan (Burhan Yildiz). Driving across the barren landscape, Kenan is awfully reticent, unable to recall the exact place where the body is kept. He also doesn’t seem like the conventional killer: timid, polite he’s even reduced to tears on three separate occasions throughout this torturous night. Whether they are tears of regret or genuine sorrow is up to the audience to judge.

The night drags on into dawn, and the men grow increasingly frustrated. Taking respite in the shanty house of a village mayor during an electrical power cut, the group drop in and out of sleep, haunted by an image of the mayor’s beautiful, candlelit daughter. When morning breaks, the search for a body becomes a hunt for something far more intangible. Beneath the desolation, car headlights, expressionistic shadows and treacherous ravines is the pursuit for masculinity and the buried secrets the men are carrying on heavy, tired shoulders.

What’s so striking in Anatolia is Ceylan and his co-writers – brother Ebru Ceylan and Ercan Kesel (who plays the village mayor) – are able to shift so gracefully between profound, poetical dialogue, to the slapstick, the mystical, satirical and the genuinely haunting. Very early on in their pursuit, some of the men irreverently natter in the car about the difference between buffalo yoghurt and cheese; followed by the more prescient, harrowing image of a face carved into rock, a totem of sorts from the ancient tribe who once roamed this squalid land. Even at a staggering 2.5 hours running time, Ceylan has an incredible ability to keep us enthralled and guessing where the film will take us next.

Just like Iranian maestro Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry, and the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men, location in Anatolia becomes it’s own sort of character. With the beautiful cinematography of Gökhan Tiryaki, one of the film’s most memorable moments is it’s smallest: two long takes of an apple falling off a tree, rolling across the desert and floating away down a stream, to the sounds of the Prosecutor and stern police chief arguing. Perhaps it’s symbolism on the brevity of life in contemporary, emasculated Turkey, or maybe it’s just a pretty little aside from the heavy drama elsewhere. Whilst Ceylan is first and foremost a storyteller, his intricate framing makes us look at the world anew, not dissimilar from activist Godfrey Reggio’s visual essays, The Qatsi Trilogy.

Subtle framing meets the subtle delights of the onscreen performers. Whilst there is no central character, Taner Birsel is so captivating as ‘The Prosecutioner’; a man trying to document the truth of the murder case, whilst wrestling with the unspoken truths of his past. He’s also very funny too, breaking the dour tone with jokes about how he was once told he resembled Clark Gable. Poetical once again, even as the most distinguished member of the group, he can’t help but wish he were somewhere else other than in this purgatorial situation.

Yes, Anatolia is long and moves at a glacial pace, the middle act is confusing and the Turkish political allegory will certainly slip through the brains of the uninitiated (i.e. me). It’s difficult cinema, but why should art cinema be easy?

Ceylan has an unmatched ability to render down the audience, to test us, and even lead us to question his own creative intentions. Once we get to the film’s revealing, yet still ambiguous closing moments, he reels us back in, the credits roll, and it’s impossible to deny his genius.

IMDb / Trailer

PODCAST no.1: Week 30 / Films #180-187

We’re available for catering services. Not christenings.

Mixing things up a bit in the #366Movies camp, I’ve broke away from daily download tradition and decided to give you weekly instalments of movie glory. Click on the Soundcloud doobery below for eight spoken film reviews, tasty music from electronic producer Seams, and a whole bunch of summer sunshine tomfoolery with Mads and I. That’s us above. And yes, that healthy produce in our mitts was fresh from the garden. Not now, it’s in our bellies; or somewhere else more disgusting.

#184: Chacun son Cinéma (To Each His Own Cinema) (2007)

Take to your seats.

Presented at the glitzy 60th Cannes Film Festival in 2007, Chacun son Cinéma is an unsurprisingly tumultuous omnibus feature. With 34 three minute shorts shorts from 36 directors, it also feels a bit too crowbarred for a single 100-minute presentation.

With festival director Gilles Jacob challenging each director to create a short which somehow describes “their state of mind of the moment as inspired by the motion picture theatre, it’s fascinating to see these international auteur’s explore their devotion to cinema restricted to a measly time restraint. With little time for exposition or pretty much anything else, I was hoping for pure cinema, but instead I got 34 short homage films featuring cinema halls. Close, but no Croisette.

There’s a great deal of shorts to like here. Brazil’s Walter Salles’ 5,557 Miles From Cannes is at tuneful riff on Cannes elitism. Canadian visionary David Cronenberg morosely explores the futile future of cinema in mini-dystopia flick At the Suicide of the Last Jew In the World In The Last Cinema In the World. Italy’s answer to Woody Allen, Nanni Moretti produces a narrative commentary about his movie-watching history in Diary of a Spectator, which is both breezy and informative. And China’s Wong Kar-Wai’s luscious I Travelled 9000km to Give It To You presents the director’s love for cinema in a sexy new, beautifully coloured light. Oooh, I almost forgot Kiarostami’s Where is My Romeo?; even when given just three minutes, he can still churn out an allegorical mini masterpiece.

Expectedly, when the turkeys do come, they come gobbling. David Lynch’s uninspiringly mysterious Absurda is, even for the master of modern suspense, completely trite. Then there’s France’s most forgiven child molester Roman Polanski pain inducing attempt at comedy with Cinema Erotique. Above and beyond, the worst of them all comes from Britain’s most overrated filmmaker, ‘socio-realist’ Ken Loach’s Happy Ending, a frustrating and superfluous father and son tale starring Bradley Walsh. BRADLEY FUCKING WALSH!

The subheading of the programme translates roughly as Or That Thrill When The Lights Dim And The Movie Begins. Although these projects may come from a passionate place, there’s not a lot of love or willingness to thrill in the projects individually. There’s also no space (or, let’s face it, time) to represent the artistic license which these lauded directors have accumulated over their career’s.

An exercise in industry back-patting, Chacun son Cinéma attempts to present the world’s film artist arsenal in all it’s glory, but ends up feeling like a lightweight pet-project. Still, as far as omnibus movies go, it’s much better than Paris Je t’aimeBut then again, so is everything.

As an overall, 100 minute film….


IMDb it.

If you were interested, here’s details on all 33 shorts, with individual star scores out of six. A lot of them can found on YouTube.

OPEN-AIR CINEMA- Raymond Depardon – 2/6
ONE FINE DAY- Takeshi Kitten – 3/6
THREE MINUTES- Theo Angelopoulos – 5/6
IN THE DARK- Andrei Konchalovsky  – 5/6
DIARY OF A SPECTATOR – Nanni Moretti – 5/6
DARKNESS- Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne – 3/6
WORLD CINEMA – The Coen Brothers – 5/6
ANNA- Alejandro González Iñárritu – 3/6
ABSURDA – David Lynch– 1/6
MOVIE NIGHT- Zhang Yimou – 4/6
THE DYBBUK OF HAIFA- Amos Gitai – 2/6
THE LADY BUG- Jane Campion – 1/6
ARTAUD DOUBLE BILL –Atom Egoyan – 3/6
THE FOUNDARY- Aki Kaurismäki – 2/6
UPSURGE –Olivier Assayas – 2/6
47 years later- Youssef Chahine – 1/6
IT’S A DREAM- Tsai Ming-Ling – 2/6
OCCUPATIONS- Lars Von Trier – 3/6
THE GIFT- Raul Ruiz – 4/6
FIRST KISS- Gus Van Sant – 1/6
CINEMA EROTIQUE- Roman Polanski – 1/6
NO TRANSLATION NEEDED- Michael Cimino – 2/6
THE WORLD David Cronenberg – 5/6
I TRAVELLED 9000 KM TO GIVE IT TO YOU –Wong Kar Wai – 5/6
WHERE IS MY ROMEO? –Abbas Kiarostami – 5/6
THE LAST DATING SHOW- Bille August – 1/6
IRTEBAK – Elia Suleiman – 2/6
SOLE MEETING –Manoel De Oliveira – 1/6
5.557 MILES FROM CANNES – Walter Salles – 6/6
WAR IN PEACE –Wim Wenders – 2/6
ZHANXIOU VILLAGE- Chen Kaige – 3/6
HAPPY ENDING- Ken Loach – 0/6

#163: A Moment of Innocence (1996)

Flowery Naan.

An Iranian film isn’t an Iranian film without some Iranians and political provocation. With virtually all of his motion pictures banned in his native homeland, director Makhmalbaf has built up a reputation for both blatant and covert social commentary in his films. 1996’s A Moment of Innocence (previously known as Bread & Flour) is no exception. A tender autobiographical story of a teenage rebel and a law enforcing policeman, it’s a shame that A Moment of Innoncence gets a little caught up in poetics to really drive home the political pertinency.

Review? Click it.

IMDb it.

137: Taste of Cherry (1997)

Come drive with me, let’s drive, let’s drive away.

Through all it’s dirt, dust and desolate setting, Kiarostami’s Palme d’Or winning Taste of Cherry is something of mercurial beauty.

Mr Badii is a man on the cusp of living. With a plan to overdose on sleeping pills and fall under his favourite fruit tree that evening, he spends his day driving around Tehran desperately trying to find someone willing to help him complete his eternal wish.

I apologise if my somewhat haphazard review fails to convince you of its brilliance. I’ll summarise in short by saying that, a week on and nine films later,I haven’t been able to shake Taste of Cherry’s minimalist portrayal of universal themes compassion and the preciousness of life. Affecting cinema at it’s finest.

IMDb it.