Cinema Review – Once Upon A Time In Anatolia


A group of men – police officers, a doctor, a prosecutor and others – journey across the wild landscape of Anatolia. With them, is a man accused of murder and their goal is to discover where he buried the body. As the night unfolds and the body is not found, tensions rise.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a slow and quiet film. Thanks to a glut of fast paced TV shows and movies, audiences are used to police work unfolding at a rate of knots, but this film appears to portray events in close to real time. The men journey through the wilderness, using steams and fountains as markers and search for the body of a dead man. Each time they realise they are in the wrong place they get a little more fraught, and the men react to their slow and arduous task in different ways.

While the other characters rage around him, Kenan (Firat Tanis) remains still and quiet. The film was created because of his actions, and it is almost as though he feels the weight of this responsibility bearing down upon him. Commissar Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan) is the complete opposite to his prisoner; volatile and excitable. Mixed with the other characters in the film, who hit an emotional level between these two, this forms an interesting character study about killer and pursuer.

The film unfolds slowly and, at times, seems to stop entirely, but this allows for the spectacular visuals to dominate. The cinematographer captures the bleak beauty of Anatolia and often focuses on the landscape while the characters are talking to one another. There is plenty of comment about the modernisation of Turkey and the country’s wish to join the EU through examining rural life in this isolated land.

The film comments on the nature of life and death without ever explaining who the victim actually was and why Kenan killed him. Back-story is hinted at and slowly unwound through seemingly innocuous conversations and comments. A seemingly throwaway comment will come back later in the film as an important piece of information, so it really is important for the audience to concentrate on everything that is said.

At 150 minutes, this is not a short film, but the pacing throughout allows for the stories to be told and for the audience to feel that the film is moving forward. However, the film stumbles in it’s final 30 minutes or so when the search is completed and Kenan is removed from the narrative. Questions abound, and many are never answered, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks from the information they have learned.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a slow paced, morbid film that, aside from a couple of chuckles, does not move away from its solemn tone. It is a film that requires patience but is an interesting character study, a look at how people respond to pressure and an examination of Turkey’s move into the 21st century.

Rating: 3.5/5

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