They're looking for a body.
As three vehicles snake across the rolling plains of rural Turkey, piercing the darkness with their headlights, it can take you a while to understand what's going on in "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia."
Settle in. This 2-hour, 30-minute movie takes its time serving up subtle and indirect revelations about human nature. If you need action and quick pacing and clear resolution, this is not your movie.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, one of Turkey's most lauded directors, won the grand prize at Cannes last spring, plus a few directing honors, for this slow and artful look at a murder investigation — and how this night has a lasting impact on a number of lives.
The vehicles contain two handcuffed murder suspects, one of whom has confessed (Firat Tanis); a prosecutor (Taner Birsel); a police chief (Yilmaz Erdogan); his driver, Arab Ali (Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan); a doctor (Muhammet Uzuner); a guy with a laptop to record the proceedings; and two guys with shovels ready to dig.
It will take you a while to sort out who's who. No worries. There's time.
The suspect was drunk. He can't remember where the corpse is buried. Every watering place looks the same in the darkness. There was a field, a round tree.
The sleep-deprived police chief gets impatient and abusive. His job has taken a toll. Small comforts mean a lot amid a long night: a cigarette, a cookie, an apple shaken off a tree.
Ceylan reminded me of David Lean in his sweeping vistas, his attention to the details of nature like birds taking wing, or the colors of dusk, or the wind gusting, or following an apple's long roll down a hill and into a small stream.
At 4 in the morning, the caravan stops in a small village, wakes the mayor (Ercan Kesal), gets a bite to eat. The price is the mayor's plea for government help for his dying village.
The mayor's astonishingly beautiful daughter serves tea, making the men even more morose. She'll go to waste out here in the middle of nowhere, and they're too old for her anyway.
As slowly as the passage of time amid dark night, life has worn on these characters. The earth will eventually yield the corpse. The men will uncover their secrets, their natures.
The suspect had a reason for his rash act, and a rock tossed at him by someone he loves seems a worse penalty than courts can impose.
The jaded police chief blames women for every criminal case he handles. The prosecutor has hidden his own domestic secret, which the doctor unwittingly unlocks. The doctor, divorced, will not tell the truth on the autopsy report, because a glance out the window gives him a reason to withhold it.
Life plods on. But once upon a time, in Anatolia, there was a long night of quiet revelation.
The movie is in Turkish, with English subtitles.
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