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article imageReview: ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’ a story was hidden in the desert Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Mar 2, 2012 in Entertainment
The conventional murder mystery is fraught with police tracking and chasing their suspects, or racing against the clock to solve the case. ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’ forgoes those elements for a more subtle approach.
When not a lot happens in a movie, most people would consider it boring. However, in some of these cases, the developments are subtle, and require attention and insight. That is the case in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a crime drama about the search for a dead body in the desert. The main actions are driving, digging and walking – but it’s in the dialogue that all the events are unfolding.
Once upon a time a large group consisting of police, public officials, military and civilian workers were led through a dark, Turkish desert by a man accused of murder. They were in search of the buried body of his victim – only he couldn’t remember exactly where he placed it. So they trek blindly through the desolate land, stopping at the slightest recognition of a landmark only to discover it’s similar to a place marker that can be found further up the road. The search continues to be fruitless and tensions rise as the night grows longer. But the conversation never gets tired.
Slow would not be an accurate description of the film’s pace, but to some extent it’s the only one. Uneventful, may be a better choice. In the manner to which we as audiences are accustomed, not a lot is happening. But everything taking place is significant to some degree. Conversations between the characters often seem unfocused or arbitrary, but then the golden nugget appears amongst the mire – the important fact or piece of information to hold on to until later in the narrative. As a result, the viewer really does have to pay attention to all that is said, becoming somewhat of a detective in the process. In contrast, there are long silences filled with nothing but the sounds of the desert and close-ups of characters deep in thought (or half asleep as the long night drags on).
The details of the crime are a mystery. For the majority of the film, it’s unknown who the victim is, why he was killed or how the murder suspects were discovered. Moreover, further questions arise as the tale moves forward and some questions are never answered. This is just another element that creates a captivating experience during a film that is absent of any of the bells and whistles that have become customary, including a soundtrack. Ever wonder what an autopsy sounds like? This film makes no effort to mask the sounds, despite not displaying the visuals.
The film is very solemn outside of a few laughs. Informed by the morbidity of their mission and the lateness of the hour, the men are grave regardless of the topic, which ranges from yogurt to the beauty of a woman they encounter. Sometimes someone will begin to say something and the camera will take a moment before showing the speaker, often holding on the listener instead and producing a curious disconnect from the discussion.
To watch this film requires some patience, but it’s an excellent examination of people in a high stress situation.
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Starring: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan and Taner Birsel
More about Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Murder mystery, crime drama
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