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NYFF: Nuri Bilge Ceylans’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”

NYFF: Nuri Bilge Ceylans's "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia"

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s slow, stunning Once Upon a Time in Anatolia begins with a long nocturnal search for “the place.” Two brothers have just confessed to murdering another and burying him far outside of town, and a small caravan of vehicles has set forth at dusk to recover the body. The make-up of the search party could be the start of some elaborate joke, which doesn’t seem lost on the perceptibly wry Ceylan: a doctor, a prosecutor, two prisoners, a smattering of policemen and soldiers, drivers, “diggers.” Most of the officials have brought their own daily preoccupations along for the ride (no one so prominently as the short-fused police chief, played by Yilmaz Erdogan, who talks at length about buffalo yogurt, and troubles over how he will fill a prescription for his son before he returns home), and as the search drags on they also begin to worry about how late it’s getting; Ceylan contrasts these small-scale grumblings with their pursuit of a location that seems more and more mythically simple, and perhaps less and less accessible, the farther they travel out from the city. “Is it here?” they ask the chief suspect, Kenan (Firat Tanis), during the film’s first pullover, at a site that seems to match the initial description. He replies no, or suggests it in his unsettlingly intense, inward way. He expands on the location’s individual features (field, hillside, “round tree”) with a reluctance that suggests deliberate deception—but he has, after all, already confessed. Read Benjamin Mercer’s review of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.

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