At a time where the cinematic mainstream is overrun with fast paced and over edited, attention grabbing quick fire films, it’s very refreshing to delve into smaller and often foreign films that slow down the pace and meditate on the themes it is addressing. Nothing I have seen in recent times has done this more than Once Upon A Time In Anatolia - the latest film from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Running at 150 minutes, the film follows a haphazard group of police officers and officials as they drag a weary perp around the Anatolian Steppes in search of where he committed an undisclosed crime. However, this narrative is merely a backdrop for a cinematic meditation of middle-aged men and how they deal with crisis, as well as a musing on the beauty of life in a world full of violence and monotony.
Let me say from the outset that this film isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s pacing is so slow it makes 2001: A Space Odyssey look as fast as the Transformers films - it sets to try your patience just as the perp tries the patience of the officials as they search for the crime scene. But as the saying goes: good things come to those who wait - your patience will be rewarded with a rich and engaging experience through some of the most beautiful photography ever committed to celluloid and with one of the most subtly clever scripts that really lets each individual audience member take away something different.
But through all of its metaphysical and philosophical musings, this is still a genre film. Firmly set up as a police procedural film, we are introduced to each of the characters as they discuss the banal procedure they are undergoing as well as the goings on in each of their lives. Conversations ranging from food to prostate infections crop up throughout and each character grows very delicately as we learn more about them piece by piece. As the procedure progresses, so do the characters, and it’s all so closely tied in with the pacing of the whole thing - everything here is working together in harmony.
But not only are the script and cinematography pitch perfect, the writer/director has also managed to garner incredible performances from his predominantly male cast. Each individual tic from the actors adds the crucial third dimension to each character, making them stand out from one another and fully drawing you into their deathly dull procedure. You feel as though you’re there with them, and that’s what all good films do. They transport you into their world and make you empathize with their characters.
But ultimately, at the end of the long journey - followed by an extended coda once they return to town and a wide open ending - it’s what you personally feel about the film, which is what makes the experience so enriching. I mentioned in an earlier review that films essentially strive to reveal a particular truth about the human condition, what Once Upon A Time In Anatolia does is allow you to find that truth for yourself.