Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Starring: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Firat Tanis
The Film: The concept of the sins of the father has strong roots in human history, and it is one that is still with us today when it comes to not only works of fiction but also in reality. Global and social tensions of all sorts have ties to the wrongs commited by forebearers upon other forebearers and while time has passed, these grudges are still being harboured deeply in many cultures that it would almost take a miracle to extract them. Sins of the father basically says what has happened has happened, it cannot be undone, it cannot be erased and it will always stain. When a story begins with the phrase “Once upon a time…” it usually indicates an epic story be it fable or factual is just about to be told.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2011 powerhouse film “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia” explores this notion amongst other deeply philosophical ones so wonderfully that it will speak to you no matter from where you hail, what you believe or your station in life all. To give you a blow by blow recount of what happens in this tale that seems to be just another police procedural film would spoil your experience however I put forth this overtly cliche but nonetheless true phrase- all is not what it seems.
When the curtain opens, this very grim movie details the complex spiderweb of interactions between it’s characters that have been brought together by a mysterious crime is filled with so many threads that despite seeming different at first glance all come together in the end to form a bigger picture, and even then, the details are murky and one may even argue, misanthropic. The landscape of Keskin serves as perhaps the most crucial character in this film because it has a distinctly forboding yet ambiguous quality- nothing about it is obvious and like the human characters in this story, there is far more going on than what we the audience can see. Interestingly enough, the director based this film on his own experiences while growing up in a small rual town similar to Keskin in terms of interpersonal mentality and social infrastructure that helped shape his vision for this movie and that is perhaps why the events in this film are so effective- as unbelievable as the affairs that occur in this movie may seem, human beings are capable of a great many things, and not all of them logical. Additionally, Ceylan is a huge fan of the works by Chekov and Dostoyevsky, both authors who are well known for dealing with the labyrinthine depths of human nature and that appreciation is highly prevalent here, especially when it comes to the conversations between characters and the actions they perform. Punishment can be unjustified, a small awkward moment can be turned into a massive slight and the lines of what makes a human a human become blurred.
In a way, “Anatolia” echoes quite a few points from Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs”, a movie that also deals with the ambiguities between people in a small town setting that questions the concept of morality. There is this popular point of view maintined that being in a small village means that everybody knows each other and are always willing to help each other out… this isn’t so much the case here. The more secrets you have, the more you must hide them and the further the length you must go to keep it that way.
This film has won a lot of praise for confronting it’s audiences and rightly so- all of the ensemble cast are masterful in their characterisation of their roles, a standout being Firat Tanis as the lead suspect Kenan is one but one part of a much larger puzzle. The man has a presence that indeterminate yet very human despite the fact he is meant to the alleged ‘bad guy’.
The cinematography is for lack of a better term, astounding because it reflects the very element of human nature which is?… Exactly. Every frame despite the gloomy, desolate landscape is beautiful, frightening and indeterminate just like the human mind. Ceylan knows exactly what story to tell and just how many of his cards to lay upon the table without feeling the need to spoonfed the audience- there is something deliberately surrepticious yet honest about this film that while you may not like many if all of the characters, but that’s life isn’t it? Is anything truly certain? Do we know each other as well as we believe we do? Could I be any more pretentious? It goes without saying this film is a must-see, and if you count yourself as a film buff or film fan, you owe it to yourself to see this- you may not get the answers, but it will help open your perceptions even further and after all, isn’t that what great films tend to do?
The Australian DVD
The DVD is great visually and the audio is just fine.
Review written by Bea Harper
Thanks to Ben from MadMan for his support.