Turkish 'Anatolia' is masterful melange of humanity 

“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” is a Turkish police procedural and existential road tale transpiring under skies both symbolically and cinematically thunderclap-ready.

As daily drudgery fuses with big-picture issues over a running time of 2½ hours, the film is a potential art house eye-roller, certainly. But writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan spins an assortment of minimal plot lines, recurrent themes, bits of chatter and underlying truths into a captivating drama.

Ceylan (“Climates”) sets up a loosely conventional framework — a three-act crime story — and then throws the rule book out one of the windows through which his characters pensively gaze.

His film contains the texture of “A Separation,” the life-goes-on quality of Abbas Kiarostami and a grisly crime suggestive of David Fincher. Its characters’ quietly expressive faces radiate a disappointment found in Chekhov. As for his own stamp, Ceylan is an immensely skilled and humane story weaver.

Three cars traversing the Turkish countryside get things rolling. Inside is a law-enforcement team that includes a police commissioner (Yilmaz Erdogan), a prosecutor (Taner Birsel) and a doctor (Muhammet Uzuner).

With them is a suspect (Firat Tanis) who has confessed to killing a man. Problem is, he can’t seem to remember where he buried the body, and the search is yielding nothing.

The semifarcical gives way to the feverish when the men dine at a village farmhouse. The mayor’s young daughter makes for a luminous presence of beauty.

The final act delivers a corpse, but more questions. Secrets surface and revelations occur, but some will be buried again.

You’ll need to bring a healthy attention span to this film; its current comes largely in the form of banter, glances and back-story snippets. But Ceylan is an involving storyteller with the depth it takes to pull off the human-condition material and an entertaining sense of absurdity. He combines numerous topics — death and loss, guilt and redemption, country vs. city mindsets, official stories vs. actual truths, a possible ghost — with smoothness and clarity.

There is also humor. The prosecutor, dictating his report, states the corpse resembles Clark Gable, for starters.

The total: a satisfying genre picture, a compelling human canvas and a fascinating look at the experiences and emotions that can shape what goes down as historical record. Not often do you find yourself thinking about a film’s characters and situations so intricately after the credits roll.


Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Four stars
Starring Muhammet Uzuner, Taner Birsel, Yilmaz Erdogan, Firat Tanis  
Written by Ercan Kesal, Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Not rated
Running time
2 hours, 37 minutes

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Anita Katz

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