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"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia": Investigating Deaths and Meaning 

Wednesday, Feb 8 2012
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A 157-minute police procedural, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia elevates Turkey's leading filmmaker, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, to a new level of achievement. Like Ceylan's earlier films, it's an impeccably beautiful representation of the everyday — as demonstrated by the brief prologue, a slow, steady zoom through a service station's dirt-encrusted window into a barren room where three guys, one of whom will perhaps be killed by the other two, eat and drink under the blind gaze of a blurry black-and-white TV. Cue the distant thunder — let the investigation begin. At once absurd road film and grand metaphor, the movie's first third is a search for meaning in the void. A convoy of official cars drive by night through the barren countryside; they have two suspects in custody and are vainly seeking the spot where they claim to have buried the third. Midway through, in a scene of uncanny loveliness, the group pulls into a remote village for a late-night meal. Later, with the sky beginning to lighten over a hill as bleak as calvary, the searchers find that for which they have been searching (perhaps). The corpse is brought back to town so that a doctor may perform an autopsy, which presents more puzzling facts. A grand narrative yarn spun from a number of smaller ones, Anatolia demonstrates the truism that, the more we know, the less we understand. Or is it vice versa? Perhaps the greater understanding is admitting how little we can know.

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J. Hoberman

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