Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Postby CAP » Thu Jul 12, 2012 2:15 am

This is the next feature by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and although it has the same cinematographer, Gökhan Tiryaki, the images are not really as compelling as Three Monkeys. Three Monkeys was some sort of masterpiece. Gökhan does OK but maybe the opportunities were just not there. The opening shot of the murderer and his dimwit accomplice in stern discussion with the victim (at least I think that's what we have) has a jaw dropping zoom/track in and out through a grubby/foggy window, but that's about it for the movie.

But in a lot of ways Once Upon A TIme in Anatolia is easier to follow, although it doesn't always seem that promising. Basically the story is the police in this provincial backwater of Eastern Turkey have a confessed murderer whose story has to be confirmed by the location of the corpse. They are accompanied in their search by the local doctor and Chief Prosecutor, who seems to be a bit like a District Attorney or QC, maybe a coroner (?). The law's not my strongpoint. Anyway these two guys are really pivotal to the story. The murderer seems a bit dim or maybe terrified by the police who are a fairly short tempered, violent lot. And he keeps getting confused as to just where he (and his idiot younger brother) buried the body. It's somewhere out in the bare rolling hills of Anatolia. They drive 20-30 km from their town in a little convoy of cars, it gets dark. The police suspect they're being led up the garden path by a psycho/idiot. They find somewhere to stay for the night, a kind of farmhouse owned by acquaintances of the Prosecutor and the 'interrogation' discloses the fact that the murderer believes himself to be the true father of the victim's young son. He's had an affair with the victim's wife, in other words. This doesn't seem to be going anywhere, since we only learn of the news indirectly, and the film offers no flashbacks or closer examination of the murderer's story. But that's not really where the action is. Later in the night the Prosecutor and the doctor discuss adultery and suicide (it was a jolly night!) and the Prosecutor relates a story about a woman who mysteriously announces her own death some months before the birth of her baby. When she dies just as she said she would the cause seems to be heart attack. But the Prosecutor believes it to be a sort of suicide. The doctor unpacks this one, while at the same time realising that the Prosecutor is actually talking about his own wife. The woman used stolen medication to induce the heart attack, she did so after learning of her husband's (the Prosecutor's) infidelity.

This is where the film takes on an echo of Three Monkeys. But increasingly, the film focuses on the doctor, a youngish man from Istanbul or Ankara - an outsider to the region anyway, and his own bleak existence attached to a medical centre/hospital in the local town. After they eventually locate the corpse in a shallow grave (it appears later he was buried alive, although he has a number of wounds) they return to their town to conduct a full autopsy. The doctor returns to his rooms and surveys some photos of himself as a child and young man, his fiancee, who has since left him. We don't really know why, but this is clearly a guy cut off, regarding intimacy with some suspicion. The victim's widow attends the autopsy to identify the corpse and also collect his clothes and belongings. She doesn't get to say anything. She has her young son with her but the number of piercing looks exchanged between her and the doctor set up a weird expectation. Does she know what he knows? Does he know that she knows? She is young and sort of pretty, but also kind of hard. The doc gets a V for vulnerability.

Very little is spelled out here, but the very slow opening up of the doctor, who initially seemed just a spectator, makes his tact and patience seem all the more poignant. Crucially in the autopsy, where the surgeon detects dirt in the windpipe, indicating that the victim had probably been buried alive. The doctor hesitates, for some reason he does not allow this to be entered on the record of the autopsy. Is he being tactful, or merely exercising another level of obfuscation, that the film has faithfully tracked? There is something weirdly tragic about his predicament, weirdly remote about the murder at this point.
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