NYFF Spotlight: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Posted by Nicholas Kemp on 9.22.2011
Why you should see it:
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is the sixth feature from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It follows a group of policeman and two confessed killers as they search the Turkish countryside for the site where the latter hid their victim’s body. The film is extremely procedural and lacks any of the sensationalism of a typical crime drama, providing instead an ultra-realistic depiction of the daily grind that constitutes police work. Filmed primarily at night in long, wide-angle shots, many of which are almost entirely lit by the headlights of the police vehicles, Ceylan delivers the stunning visuals that have earned him prestige as a filmmaker around the world.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for the Palme d’Or. It has also played at the Toronto International and Sarajevo Film Festivals and after NYFF it will head to the BFI London Film Festival.
About the director:
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is one of the most celebrated Turkish filmmakers working today. His background in photography has translated to a highly formal visual style featuring long, static shots and natural light. He often works with non-actors and on extremely tight budgets.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is only his sixth feature, yet Ceylan’s body of work has collected an impressive array of awards. Clouds of May (1999) was nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear at Berlinale and won four awards at the Istanbul International Film Festival. The Town (1997) won the Caligari Film Award at Berlinale and several awards at Istanbul as well. He has enjoyed particular success at Cannes, where he has been nominated for the Palme d’Or four times—for Anatolia, Three Monkeys (2008), Climates (2006), and Distant (2002)—won Best Director for Three Monkeys and the Grand Jury Prize for Anatolia and Distant.
What the critics are saying:
Eric Kohn for indieWIRE: "A slow-burn study of investigatory obsession and police bureaucracy, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s mesmerizing 'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia' plays like 'Zodiac' meets 'Police, Adjective.' That’s a tough combination to pull off: Neither David Fincher’s epic tale of the infamous decade-spanning serial killer hunt nor Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s minimalist cop drama come with easy answers. But Ceylan has made a similarly analytical brain teaser, rendered in patient and sharply philosophical terms."
Dave Calhoun for Time Out London: "Ceylan is a sly and daring screen artist of the highest order and should draw wild praise with this new film for challenging both himself and us, the audience, with this lengthy, rigorous and masterly portrait of a night and day in the life of a murder investigation on his country’s Anatolian steppes."
What the NYFF programmers say:
“Once Upon A Time in Anatolia is the new film by the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes this year. It’s a slow-burn police procedural about a group of cops and two suspects who are traversing the Turkish countryside looking for a dead body. It takes place over the course of a very long night, and the movie is shot incredibly in digital high definition under cover of darkness—you’ve never seen such detail with very, very low levels of light in a movie. It’s really remarkable. The movie becomes a kind of meditation on Turkey’s past and present, and people who feel that this once great empire has diminished and who dream of other lives. The police inspector is constantly being told he looks like Clark Gable, which he does a little bit. You have the sense that these people wish their lives were more like a Hollywood movie because this investigation becomes just about finding the body and closing the case. It actually ends with a very, very long autopsy scene that underlines the procedural nature of everything and the lack of closure or answers. It’s a strange, hypnotic, slow film that pays off very handsomely.” —Scott Foundas, Associate Program Director