Once Upon a Time in Anatolia: A Majestically Slow Crime Thriller
dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The highly regarded fiftysomething Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has finally made his masterpiece. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is about two killers, their victim, and an investigation of their inhuman crime. The film opens with three men drinking and chatting in a garage or gas station. One of the three turns out to be the victim; the other two are his killers. But we never see what leads to the murder—a robbery gone bad? An act of sheer evil? Rivalry for a woman? After the seemingly jovial moment in the garage/gas station, the film cuts to three cars (one carrying soldiers, diggers, and a suspect; one carrying a prosecutor and his team; one carrying police officers, a doctor, and the main suspect) searching a terrifyingly massive and empty landscape for the spot the murderers buried the body. It is deep in the night, everyone is dead tired, the suspects can't remember exactly where the body is—it's by a roundish tree, a bridge, a dam, a spring, and so on. Are they playing games with the cops? Are they planning to escape from the law? The night and the land seem endless.
Because the murder has already been solved (it's just a matter of finding the body), Ceylan plants a mystery within the majestically slow crime thriller. This mystery unfolds in a series of conversations between the highest officials of the investigation—the prosecutor and the doctor. While waiting for the police to locate the body, the two talk about a beautiful woman who apparently predicted her own death. The prosecutor knew this woman, and he is confounded by how she was able to predict the very minute her heart would stop. "She had a baby, said good-bye to everyone, and died at the moment she said she would die." The doctor, however, does not believe anyone can predict their own death. She, he tells the prosecutor, must have killed herself. Eventually, this mystery is solved. As for the body? You have to watch the film. Its dark and unsettling images, its wicked wind and hellhound sounds, its complicated philosophizing about life and death will leave a permanent impression on your cinematic imagination.