Once Upon A Time In Anatolia - Blu-ray Review

'just what is Ceylan interested in, if not the obvious plot about murder, human lives and the fracturing police investigation?'

Nuri Bilge Ceylan's lilting metaphysical sojurn into the wilds of midland-Turkey features a first hour amongst the most beautiful you can currently find on high definition source. The blu-ray of Ceylan's Once Upon A Time In Anatolia perfectly showcases the fantastic photography by Gökhan Tiryaki, most notable in the first third as a small band of investigators, criminals and hangers on traverse the landscape in search of a body.

That description hints at some sort of a police procedural but Ceylan seems uninterested in following that through-line  Aspersions are occasionally cast as to why a man is dead but never does the director pause to contemplate them. It's clear that some tragedy has happened, and the finale takes time to make it human, but never do we receive an insight into it.

The obvious question this begs is, therefore, just what is Ceylan interested in, if not the obvious plot about murder, human lives and the fracturing police investigation?

The past and memory clearly play a part. Criminal Kenan (Firat Tanis) cannot remember where he has buried the body. Police chief Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan) seems like he has seen this too many times to keep his cool. A trip to a rural village throws up all sorts of questions about identities, the development of lives and how we interact. Occasionally people drift off to apparent dreams or flights of fancy; are they past, present or future? The much-commented on scene which follows an apple's fall down a hill seems to suggest we are all destined for the same place any way.

Religion seems to play a part. In one deliberately staged scene, just before the body is found, the entire party is shown on the screen together for the first time. There are twelve of them. Ceylan seems to be purposefully evoking the last supper, but why? Other allegorical references are sparse and scattered.

There's also the question too of fairy tale and of homage. The title suggests the formless, fanciful, narrative that we eventually end up with but this is no fable, there are no obvious grand gestures or perfectly realised dramatic imagery. Perhaps then, this nods instead to the 'Once Upon A Time' in film culture, rather than literature. Certainly Once Upon A Time In Anatolia shares the isolated, desolate, feeling of the Leone Westerns. The middle segment in the village, which the twelve band members ride in to, has all the hallmarks of a Wild West outpost. Again though, these seem mere tossed up hints - small tomatoes in a large green salad - and the finale lacks the tragic drama of the genre.

Like the film itself, the audience may be left somewhat grasping for meaning here and positively bewildered by the undeveloped plotting. Ceylan's film is beautiful, no question, and his aims seem lofty, but what is the end result other than partially unformed and stunningly lacking in satisfaction? A somewhat empty, beautiful, reach into the metaphysically uncertain.



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