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Once Upon a Time in Anatolia Review

By David Kempler

Not Worth the Time

After I saw "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" I was overwhelmed with questions. Among them were, What did I just watch, Why did the director choose to shoot most of it in almost total darkness, Why has it been received well by some, and most importantly, What goes on at the Cannes Film Festival.

I was looking forward to it because it was a co-winner of the Grand Prix, the highest honor bestowed at arguably the world's most prestigious film festival. When the end credits rolled and the packed audience began stretching and waking up from their intermittent sleep, the group I saw it with all stared at each other, curious to see if the next guy had understood and loved it. No one wants to be the one to say they did not understand it if everyone else did. You also don't want to dislike something that is universally loved and held with awe. To be fair, I do enjoy being a contrarian, but in cases like this I like to know exactly what I am being contrary to. My group of four was thoroughly unimpressed. One in my group asked me to not call her with any other film suggestions.

As I left the screening room, I recalled a similar experience from almost exactly a year earlier. That was when I saw "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives", another big winner at Cannes. It is hard to say which one I preferred, or more correctly, detested less, but "Boonmee" at least had a scene that depicted a sexual act between a fish and a woman.

"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" comes to us courtesy of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and despite what I have written so far, he is a real talent. Yes, the bulk of it is shot in insanely low light, in countryside that would not inspire you to book your next vacation, but somehow he imbues a sense of beauty into this wasteland.

What we are watching is a criminal investigation into the apparent murder of a local man. A car that contains the suspect, and various police officials is searching for the site of the murder, but it's night, and the suspect can't remember or won't remember where he committed the crime. This involves stopping at lots of places and features the one enjoyable part of it all; the verbal interplay between the characters. Their chatter is borderline inane, focusing on the same idiotic topics we all talk about with our friends: Minor health issues, troubles at home and in personal lives, who has the flashlight, etc. Those were the best moments of the journey.

Despite displaying a slightly unusual view of a police investigation and a somewhat haunting look and feel, in the end, that just isn't enough to hold an audience's attention, at least an audience that is not viewing it at the Cannes Film Festival. I remain flabbergasted at the process of choosing excellence at the festival. Perhaps only four films were screened and the other three were directed by a group of baboons. I feel secure in my belief that that is not the case. However, I think it would be a good idea for you to avoid this, presuming you could even find it, because even though the director is a talent, you can certainly happen upon a much better time than this.

What did you think?

Movie title Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Release year 2011
MPAA Rating NR
Our rating
Summary A Turkish criminal investigation traverses dank landscapes at night, in search of what transpired. With better lighting they might have been more successful and we might have been able to see it.
View all articles by David Kempler
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