Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s seventh film (following the outstanding trio of DISTANT, CLIMATES, and THREE MONKEYS continues the trend proving him to be a filmmaker of note. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA clocks in at 157 minutes, and it starts off at an intentionally grueling pace. Part murder mystery, part police procedural, what Ceylan’s latest film really is an exploration into the human soul. The film is split fairly evenly into the dark of night, and the clinical light of day. For the first hour plus, a posse of police officers, a doctor, a prosecutor and two confessed murderers roam the quiet steppes of Anatolia, searching for the body of a murder victim. Sadly, the self-confessed murderer was drunk the night of the crime, and is having trouble remembering exactly where they buried the body.
As the trio of vehicles wends their way through the darkness of the hilly and windy landscape, the characters provide some banter that is at times humorous, and at times banal. As the group grows weary and decides to stop for the night in a small village, the first plot twist occurs, along with the appearance of the first woman to be seen in the film. ??The body is eventually found, and the film shifts to the small town where the autopsy is to be conducted.
The narrative shifts as well, to the POV of the doctor, a quiet observer, who continues to observe the characters around him, including the wife of the murder victim. Played with somber intensity (and a formidable moustache) by Muhammet Uzuner, the doctor becomes the moral pivot upon which the film hinges. His ongoing discussion with the Prosecutor, played with panache and another formidable moustache by Taner Birsel, reveals a telling line about the ruthlessness of women, which may or may not have something to do with the film’s plot. ??And that’s the beauty of this film. It almost doesn’t really matter the motivation behind the central murder, and it’s never really revealed. It leaves you with a lot of questions to ponder, so if you like your films to be all nicely wrapped up at the end, this film is not for you. But if you’re a fan of Ceylan’s previous films, or if you like amazing cinematography, perplexing and sometimes amusing dialog and mysterious examinations of the human soul, you will want to check out this film.