Film review: ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, from Built For Speed

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia will split audiences into two bitterly opposed camps. Some will see it as a riveting meditation on human existence, others will feel that at 2 1/2 hours and as slow as a Boycott innings, it’s the biggest snore-fest of all time.

The film’s title suggests an organised crime epic along the lines of Once Upon a Time in America; it’s epic in length but not in scope.  The filmmakers have decided to take all the bits that are normally not included in a police procedural movie and stretch them out into a film.  Copious amounts of time are spent watching police compiling reports, trundling around in cars and wandering across windswept fields not finding anything.

Somewhere in here is a story about an alleged murderer accompanying police as they look for the victim’s body. The identity of the accused and the victim, however, seems to be of little interest to the filmmakers. Consequently, it’s extremely difficult to become immersed in the case or to care much about the characters.

Much of the film features the police chief, the prosecutor and a doctor musing morosely about life.  The dialogue and some of the film’s imagery are clearly meant to convey an existential malaise but with little emotional attachment to the characters this doesn’t entirely work.  Also, some of the imagery such as the apple rolling along until it comes to rest with its rotting mates was so obvious it seemed as if we were watching a parody of an art-house movie.

The film is admittedly mesmerising in parts largely due to stunning shots of the foreboding Anatolia countryside and some confronting outbursts from the frazzled police. Performances are all fine particularly from Yilmaz Erdogan as the desperate, angry police chief.

The film hints at weighty themes like the emptiness of life when faced with inevitable death and cultural divisions in Turkey but whether it explores these issues in any meaningful or comprehensive fashion is questionable.

This is a film with many fine qualities not the least of which are its unique visual style and atmosphere but its self-consciously slothful pacing and two and a half hour length may simply test the patience of many audience members.


Director:  Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Released: 17th May 2012

Running time: 150 mins

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