Customer Reviews: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia [Blu-ray]
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on April 16, 2012
[This is a review of the film, not the Blu-Ray itself, which has not yet been released.]

A beautifully shot, deliberately paced existentialist meditation on crime, relationships, and truth. Shot mostly in gorgeous long takes that take full advantage of the widescreen aspect ratio, the film requires (and rewards) patient viewing. The first half of the film, in which a late-night caravan of law enforcement officials drive two murder suspects to a series of nearly identical rural wells, looking for the location of a buried body, is brilliant. It echoes Waiting for Godot, as the seemingly endless search for the body fades into the background, and the focus turns to conversations about personal problems, petty bureaucracy, differing values, and the meaning of life. As the film continues, different members of the caravan wax and wane in importance, each offering a different perspective on life and one's place in the world. The final act of the film -- which occurs back in town the following day -- drags a bit, but contains powerful revelations.

Despite it's subtle metaphysical explorations, this film is also a highly realistic police procedural. It is very faint praise to say that this film is the anti-CSI, but it's cynical views of truth and justice contrast starkly with TV procedurals. A vain prosecutor basks in his role and makes up facts for convenience, no one has remembered to bring a body bag (or a hearse) for the corpse, the gendarmes are more concerned about where municipal boundaries fall than anything else, a critical medical discovery is fudged, there are rumors the murder victim has been seen alive in neighboring towns, and nothing is wrapped up in an hour, let alone 150 minutes...

This is a film for patient viewers who enjoy the liesurely-paced works of Malick, von Trier, Kiarostami, Tarkovsky or other auteurs of so-called Contemporary Contemplative Cinema.
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on March 4, 2012
Anatolia is not an easy film, and those expecting a mystery will probably be disappointed. It is a dark, atmospheric movie--the night scenes are claustrophobic and spattered with little beauties; the dialog is at times funny (especially during a heated argument about yogurt), but as the story progress it becomes oppressive (intentionally, I think). The landscape, which is often mentioned in reviews, is not necessarily beautiful, but desolate and repeating, marked by landmarks which are almost indiscernible from one another, especially in the dark (this old bridge, or that one, this fountain or that one, this plowed field or that plowed field). In the end, I found the movie difficult to sit through, almost exhausting, and I think much of the meaning is to be found the critique of language, and its place in the process of law and order in this small Turkish community. I felt like I was supposed to understand what being a man or woman means in this narrative (gender seems important, and desire), but I come up without any surprising answers to that question. In fact, the film doesn't reach many conclusions, and outside of a scene where the search party is served tea, by the beautiful daughter of a local village head, there weren't many moments in Anatolia where it felt like there was something really glimmering below the surface. It is an interesting film, and all the performances are strong. It is less eventful, grittier, and more cerebral than I thought it would be. I will probably watch it again.
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VINE VOICEon July 15, 2014
Two and a half hours long, it better be good--I said to my dad, who recommended "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia". I expect all movies I watch to be like Lincoln or Gravity. So I watched Anatolia last night and I simply couldn't go to sleep until I finished watching it way past midnight. It was that enthralling.

The movie begins against the gray backdrop of the Anatolian steppes and the bright orange headlights of cars meandering down a narrow road. The police have captured a murder suspect, who is trying to lead them to a body. When the sky turns pitch black and the suspect has problems identifying the location, the confusion leads to tragicomedic scenes and taut plot development begins in unexpected ways. Every scene pulls in the viewer deeper and deeper into the story, along with a side-story, to knot the interest.

I was tempted to correct some of the subtitles, but all in all the translation is very good.
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It is by complete coincidence that only 3 months ago, I watch one of director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's earlier movies, the beautiful "Climates" movie from 2007, on DVD (see my review posted here on Amazon). When I saw that his latest movie hit the theatre, I couldn't wait to see it (saw it the Landmark E Street theatre in Washington).

"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" (2011 release from Turkey; 150 min.) bring the (apparently based on true events) story of a group of men trying to finish off a murder investigation by locating the body of the victim in the Anatolian region of Turkey. The movie starts at dusk and covers the next 24 hrs. The group (traveling in 3 cars) go from one geographic area to the next as the confessed killer tries to remember where exactly he buried the victim, but he has trouble recalling the exact setting, as he was drunk when he murdered the victim. But eventually, they come to the right spot. The body is taken to the village for a final autopsy. I am leaving some details out, but that is pretty much the main story of the movie. Generally, I don't post the entire plot of the movie in my reviews but I make an exception here, because the story line is not the main point of the movie. Indeed, the movie is instead a study of characters, and simply observes. Check out the scene where, when the group takes a break and has dinner in a local outpost, the beautiful teenage daughter of the houselord brings out tea for the group. That scene alone (which probably takes about 10 min. or so) is worth watching the movie for in and of itself, just outstanding.

I don't know how well this movie will translate onto DVD as seeing it in the theatre transfixes you on the incredible job that Ceylan does in bringing this character study into focus, and the Anatolian scenry plays a huge part in the movie and surely will get lost some on the small screen. With this movie, Ceylan takes "slow developing" to another level, but I thought it worked beautifully. This movie was a co-winner of the Grand Prix at the 2011 Cannes film festival (the other winner being Belgium's Le Gamin au Velo, check out that movie too!). Bottom line, this movie is MILES away from your standard Hollywood fare, and then some. But if you like a good slow-developing character study movie, by all means check this out!
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on February 7, 2013
"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" (OUATIA) concerns itself with a murder, criminals, and officers of the law, but there ends all similarities with any Hollywood action thriller. Instead, OUATIA is a Turkish inaction mesmerizer.

Very little actually happens in the movie: a group of law officers drive through the nighttime countryside with two suspects, looking for a victim's body. I won't disclose any more about the specifics of the plot than that, but it suffices to say that by the end of the movie, not much has actually happened. Instead, OUATIA casts a spell over the viewer by slowing down time and inducing the state-of-mind that the human brain gets into at around 3am during an all-nighter. When one's tired body is pulling the mind towards sleep, and the mind is not quite sure if the thoughts it is experiencing are reality or a dream or a hallucination - that is the state that OUATIA induces in the viewer.

A key means of achieving this state is the cinematography of OUATIA, which beautifully captures the hauntingly spare countryside of Anatolia, Turkey at night. To allow the scenery to cast its spell, Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his crew do not film the actors in harsh lighting, which would cause the background scenery to turn black by contrast. Rather, the lighting on the subjects is dim, and they somehow cast or capture enough light on the background scenery to have it show up as a rich moving canvas, with grasses and leaves moving in the breeze. The effect is truly mesmerizing.

OUATIA is mostly concerned with the relationships between the men who set out on this journey. Because of the setting, it almost seems as though this small band of men has embarked upon a journey together across the ocean, with no contact with the rest of humanity for an extended time. Yet a strict hierarchy of roles is maintained. There is also a major power shift between the police chief, the prosecutor and the doctor, as each in turn takes charge as the primary person leading the investigation. The law enforcement officials have different views of the crime and the criminals, and whose view is ultimately correct is a matter of debate. There is an interesting twist at the end which calls into doubt this entire quest for the truth. It is left as an exercise for the viewer to determine why this twist happens and what it means.

OUATIA casts a spell and expects the viewer to think and fill in the blanks. If you are up for the effort, you will likely enjoy this film.
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on April 17, 2013
Nuir Bilge Ceylon's "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" is the complete antithesis to the conventional American crime drama, which routinely features detectives with matinee-idol looks, an assortment of plot twists and red herrings, and a series of breath-bating car chases to keep the masses from bolting for the exits.

"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" has none of these. In fact, it features a cast of balding, sagging, middle-aged men - a police chief, a prosecutor, a doctor and two murder suspects - who have gone on a night-long search, through the dour planes of Turkey, in search of a buried body. As the night drags on, the men engage in a series of long, angst-ridden conversations that reveal how their constant exposure to and intimate involvement with the sordid and depraved aspects of the human condition have made them pessimistic and cynical about life. Yet, in the end, at least one of the characters finds a way, through a bit of professional compromise, to bring a little less darkness into the world.

Meanwhile, at every step in the drama, the movie drains the process of crime detection of all its "glamour."

It's a long - 157-minutes long, in fact - methodical, and frequently ponderous journey into the heart of darkness, but fine performances and a complete lack of conventionality make it a trip worth taking.
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on August 17, 2016
This beautiful film is a monumental artistic achievement. You have to have the aesthetic of a realist to appreciate the pace, and the subtlety of the unfolding drama. If you regard the central challenge of an artist is to persuade you to suspend your disbelief and surrender to the illusion they present, then this film achieves that goal, big time. As a plot line, the problem confronting the protagonists, a collection of bureaucrats hunting for a shallow grave with suspects who have already confessed to murder, is fundamentally simple. Where did they bury the body? It is dark, it is raining, everyone is distraught, they stop here, they stop there, turning up nothing. As they wrestle with their quest, the quiet interactions begin to tell the truths about the men, and their existential predicament. In this way, the story line becomes a picaresque, and the final, explosive discovery comes as such a small event, with such significant meaning, that the shock waves reverberate throughout and back through time along the path of the quest to reveal the essence of the complexity of life, conflict, crime, truth telling, and accountability. All of that is very cerebral--but the emotional impact of this story is not to be discounted, and the viewer comes away with a tremendous sense of the complicated nature of human life, even in the seemingly simplest of circumstances. This is a brilliant film whose images creep into the imagination and linger like the mist that obscures the landscape on a foggy sunrise. Nothing is ever black and white, and both are just the endpoints of a vast continuum of grays.
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A unique group of men with a murder suspect among them are driving together in a car in the middle of the night, just using their headlights to search for a corpse. The murder suspect states that he was drunk, and didn't remember where he buried the body. During the course of the evening, secrets are revealed among the group, bringing many more questions to light after finding the victim. Acting performance is Superb, the mystery of the murder and all evidence found through investigation was very interesting and you waited with a curious mind to find out final conclusions. Thrilling, images are fantastic in scenes, and this is one I'd watch again. Highly Recommended for all mystery lovers!
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on October 5, 2015
To enjoy Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, the viewer must enjoy policework, in a sense: reading people, making observations, drawing inferences. It is not a film for the passive viewer that wants to be stimulated, entertained. The work is masterful and deserves the acclaim.
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on November 19, 2013
Unbelievably enjoyable portrait of deceptions of self and other. This compares with Bergman existential forays, and my therapist recommended it to me and my wife who thoroughly enjoyed it.
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