Far and away the best film to be released so far in 2012: Simple, beautiful, refined, restrained, leisurely, languorous, as moving as the course of night to day and night to day, “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia” may be the finest film yet by the great Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Distant,” “Climates”). Superficially a slowed police procedural, most of which takes place in deepest night in rural Turkish hills along winding roads, ribbons of trackbacks, as a grumbling storm approaches, the film takes its dear time revealing its concerns, becoming more profoundly affecting as the telling progresses. Dust and rain and cigarette smoke are palpable. (Ceylan is a great admirer of the Greek director Theo Angelopoulos and his stately feats of duration and mobile camerawork, and when Angelopoulos could not get financing for his project, “The Other Sea,” the Turkish pupil arranged for the production of the film; his teacher was killed while shooting in Piraeus in January.) A prosecutor who is told he resembles Clark Gable, a young doctor, a police captain, a couple of grunt cops, a couple of confessed killers: their search for a gravesite in forbidding gloom is by turns comic and telling. Ceylan shoots digitally, and the range of dark-on-dark-on-dark, of blacks and grays, is something cinema had never seen before. Tan grasses undulant in damp wind; the beauty of a face revealed by the glow of an oil lamp. Lightning briefly illumines a face carved onto slate-like stone as one of the characters sneaks away for a leak: a gentle, non-celluloid burst of imagery. Ceylan gently characterizes these men by dress, class indicated by a scarf here, the cut of a topcoat there, and a stopover in a hospitable rustic village deepens the undercurrents. The quest doesn’t end with a body, but with day, and the eddying outward of the stories the men have told each other, peeled away like an onion, where at the center there are only the purest of tears nature can provide. An autopsy is accompanied by children’s cries on a nearby playground: so goddam blunt, it would seem; but so goddam true and startling and right. “Once Upon a Time In Anatolia” is nothing less than great. 157m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” opens today at the Music Box. Ceylan’s epic, often fantastically beautiful photography can be sampled at his website. A trailer is below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.