Monday, 8 October 2012

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Anatolia accounts for the Western two-thirds of Asian Turkey and so in a sense is used in a generic way. However, we know from the film's dialogue that the story unfolds in the countryside surrounding the small town of Keskin - which really exists in central Anatolia. This film is pure Art House as you might expect from Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and needs concentration for all of its 2:37 run time. In essence it is a road trip that offers a wonderful opportunity to observe a number of characters both in the minutiae of small-talk and within a culture preoccupied by status, rank and privilege.

This is first and foremost an observational film the strength of which lies in the characters and the rolling Anatolian scenery. The film takes place over 18 or so hours beginning late one afternoon and finishing mid-morning the following day. At times, it feels like you are watching in real-time - for all of it! The majority of the film observes a convoy of three vehicles trolling around the Antolian countryside looking for a body. Kenan - a local man and his mentally challenged brother have confessed to the murder but Kenan was in such a drunken stupor he can't clearly remember where he buried the body - "by a pond near a tree", is the best he can do.

One car carries the local Police Commissioner, his lieutenant and another officer along with the local Doctor and the Kenan. The second car carries the local Prosecutor, his staff, Kenan's brother. The third vehicle is a police jeep with uniformed Gendarmerie and two diggers along to exhume the body. This rigid demarcation of status plays out in the way orders are given and respect is demanded. The contrast in the outlook of the Prosecutor and Doctor compared with the others is marked. They are educated, have travelled and have a different perspective. The others are more concerned with what meat will be for supper, urination, divorce and suicide!

This is a film about men and their view of the world. The Police Commissioner at one point says that in all his 20 years of policing every crime has at it's root a woman! I'm not sure if this was personal or institutional misogyny, but no-one seemed to demur. Women do feature occasionally, as do children, but their roles are limited - brief glimpses of a class relegated to second place in this patriarchal society.

The convoy lumbers around the rolling hills as darkness falls. The dim lights of the vehicles trace across the landscape as panoramic still shots are held for ages. The only real energy being injected by the pathetic blue light pulsing on the roof of the jeep. The lighting and scene selection are breath-taking.

It would be expected that the Police Commissioner should be the most keenly observational and the Doctor the most objective. As it turns out the Commissioner is blinded by his prejudice and the Doctor falsifies the autopsy report because of his empathetic pastoral concern for the widow and her son.

If you have spare 3 hours and wish to allow the Antolian landscape and its people to wash over you, this will be a rewarding watch. If you prefer action block-busters, stay well clear. I'll give it 7/10.

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