(Co-Winner of the Grand Prix Prize w/ The Kid with a Bike at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival) Directed and co-edited by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and written by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ercan Kesal, and Ebru Ceylan, Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) is the story of a group of men trying to find a dead body at the Anatolian steppe where they believe something isn’t right as it relates to the murder and the body’s location. The film is a suspense-drama that play into the search of a body but also deal with the case itself as many police, legal, and political officials find themselves involved in the investigation. Starring Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, and Taner Birsel. Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da is a ravishing and mesmerizing film from Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Told in the span of 24 hours in the Anatolian region near the town of Keskin, the film revolves around a group of police officials, a prosecutor, a couple of diggers, a doctor, and two suspects trying to find a dead body on a steppe near a tree although one of the suspects isn’t exactly sure where he and his mentally-challenged brother have buried the body. It is a film that doesn’t have much of a plot as it is about the search of a body with these two suspects knowing its location but not its exact location due to the fact that the search begins late afternoon and it would go until early in the morning. The film’s screenplay by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, his wife Ebru, and Ercan Kesal is largely straightforward though its structure is quite odd as much of the film’s first and second act takes place in the Anatolian region where a group of men try to find a body as there’s not much happening other than conversations and such.
Its third act is about not just the discovery of the body but also what to do afterwards while there are these conversations involving various officials as they talk about work, their health, and the demand for their jobs. Even the suspects are just real men who have confessed to their wrong-doing as they do get a chance to be treated humanely despite their actions and the abuse they would get from officers and those related to the victim. There is also these conversations about life and death come into play as well as wonder why this man was killed and was it an accident?
Ceylan’s direction is definitely intoxicating in the way he doesn’t just aim for a style that is meditative in its presentation with some long and gazing shots that do go on for minutes. Shot on location in areas near and in Keskin as well as the Anatolian region as it is a major character in the film. Ceylan definitely uses a lot of wide and medium shots to get a scope of these locations that include long fields and steppes with trees and an aqueduct that would appear every now and then. There are some unique close-ups and medium shots of scenes inside the car or a medium shot of everyone in that car where they just talk about trivial things. Yet, these conversations end up proving to be quite engaging as it allow the characters to showcase who they are as there’s a few gags in the film. Notably as a police official in Arap (Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan) would often come across a fruit tree or find some fruit and bring the fruit to his car while another humorous moment is during the discovery of the body where the prosecutor Nusret (Taner Birsel) makes a comment that the victim sort of looks like Clark Gable which brings a laugh to everyone in the crime scene.
The direction also has these intimate moments during a sequence in the second act where the entire crew stop at a village where they seek shelter at the home of a mayor (Ercan Kesel) who comments about his village and some of the issues he is having that include lots of dead bodies his village have and are unable to bury. It also play into moments of humanity where several men meet the mayor’s young daughter Cemile (Cansu Demirci) who serves them during a blackout. Ceylan also play into this sense of regret and humanity into these criminals who have done something bad but are at least cooperating to make things less complicated as the third act isn’t just about finding the body but also what to do that is part of a bureaucratic process. There is also this emotional and mental toll it took with Nusret having a conversation with Doctor Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner) about a story about a woman’s suicide as he keeps asking him questions as it is a recurring conversation throughout the film as it relates to life and death. Overall, Ceylan crafts a somber yet entrancing film about a group of men trying to find a body in a murder case as well as contend with the demands of their job.
Cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as its emphasis on natural lighting with elements of available light for some interior/exterior scenes at night are just gorgeous in its presentation while also adding a realism to the way many of the daytime exterior scenes look. Editors Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Bora Goksingol do excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward as it allow shots to linger for a few minutes while doing a few rhythmic cuts to play into a few humorous moments in the conversations. Production designer Cagri Erdogan and art director Dilek Yapkuoz do fantastic work with the look of the mayor’s house as well as the offices of the doctor and prosecutor in the third act.
Costume designers Ozlem Batur, Meral Efe Yurtseven, and Nildag Kilic do nice work with the costumes as it is largely casual with a few stylish look in the head-garbs that the women wear. Visual effects supervisors Yves Delforge and Ozgur Yigit do terrific work with the effects as it is largely bits of set dressing for some of the exterior locations in the Anatolian region. Sound designer Erkan Altinok does amazing work with the sound as it emphasizes on natural soundscapes and other small things including music that is played on the film whether it’s on a car radio or something from afar.
The casting by Nimet Atasoy and Selim Unel is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Kubilay Tuncer as an autopsy technician, Erol Erarslan as the victim, Nihan Okutucu as the victim’s wife, Emre Sen as a military official who is often prepared for things to help the police, Murat Kilic as a policeman in Izzet who is abusive towards one of the suspects as he is upset over the crime, Safak Karali as a courthouse clerk who often writes the report, Ugur Arslanoglu as a courthouse driver who converses with some of the people about the whole thing, Burhan Yildiz as a mentally-challenged suspect in Ramazan, Fatih Ereli as the victim’s son, Cansu Demirci as the mayor’s daughter who brings drinks to everyone during the blackout, and co-screenwriter Ercan Kesel as a mayor at a nearby village who laments over dead bodies he has no room for as well as trying to run a village despite its lack of modern equipment.
Firat Tanis is superb as one of the suspects in Kenan who is one of two suspects that confessed to killing a man as he has a hard time remembering the location while dealing with his own guilt in what happened. Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan is fantastic as the police driver Arap Ali who often have conversations with the police chief about trivial things while often trying to get fruit from fruit trees. Taner Birsel is excellent as the prosecutor Nusret as a man who has to make a report for the murder as he also talks to the doctor about a story about a woman who killed herself as he wonders why as he looks for answers. Yilmaz Erdogan is brilliant as the police chief Naci as a police official who is leading the search as he deals with health issues while admitting to feeling not up to par in the job while also lamenting over the severity of the case. Finally, there’s Muhammet Uzuner in an amazing performance as Dr. Cemal as a man who is tasked to examine everything while also coping with the fact that he’s getting older while analyzing Nusret’s story as well as his own ideas of what to do as a doctor.
Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da is a magnificent film from Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Featuring a great cast, ravishing visuals, an effective minimalist story, and its study of life and death in the search of a dead body. It is a film that doesn’t play into conventions as it is more about a group of men dealing with the search for a body as well as the seriousness of a murder case that takes an emotional and mental toll on everyone. In the end, Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da is an outstanding film from Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan Films: (Kasaba) – (Clouds of May) – (Uzak) – Climates - (Three Monkeys) – (Winter Sleep) – (The Wild Pear Tree)
© thevoid99 2022