Anatolia Night

More than half of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 157-minute-long film, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), takes place at night, in the merciless Anatolian landscape where a group of men, including the murder suspects, are looking for the body of the victim.  In fact, the entire film takes place in less than a day as the investigating team first scours the Anatolian steppes,  rests at a local mukhtar‘s (mayor) home,  continues its work, and finally heads into a nearby town  to file the report, examine the body and bring this journey–this police-invetigation-turned-existential-search– to its conclusion.

You would think that as the night gives way to daybreak, clarity and certainty will also emerge, justice will be done.  But as this remarkable film slowly unfolds in scenes which are as theatrical as they are painterly, the causes and method of murder recede, giving way to a riveting, absorbing meditation of death and love.  The characters are unforgettable–from the prosecutor all the way to the driver, Arab Ali–Ceylan’s portraiture is slow, masterful and meticulous.  Against the background of the Anatolian landscape, Ceylan reveals the the burdens of each of these men–especially the prime suspect, the prosecutor, and the ambiguous doctor, burdens which invariably come back to love, and its entangled relationship with death and beauty.

I can write for pages on this ambitious gem of a film–its play of light and dark, its transgressions, its ethics of display (what is shows and what it hides), but most of all its allegiance to literature, to Chekov in the choice and development of character, and to Dostoyevsky in the variations of the metaphor of crime and punishment.  Every single shot is a pleasure of behold, every line of the screenplay is a cry from the heart, sometimes trivial, sometimes profound.

In my mind there’s a kind of aesthetic solidarity between three films which I love:  Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Angolopoulos’ Ulysses Gaze, and Ashghar Farhadi’s A Separation.  As different as they are, these three films come from other places, on the edge of the mainstream filmic universe; all large in their vision; all meticulous in their composition; all informed with a deep humanity for the persons which usually drop of the frame of life or lurk on the edges, persons who carry their troubles often awkwardly, rarely heroically, individuals battling their environment and surroundings, in foreign languages  so authentic we are snared into believing they’re our own.


About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
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6 Responses to Anatolia Night

  1. Ara says:

    He is one of the most prolific cinematic personality living today AND a great photographer!

  2. Kevork says:

    Haven’t seen this one yet, but, interestingly, I was watching his “Seasons” yesterday for a second time maybe in two years before I saw your post on FB today.

    Where did you see the film?

    • I saw it at the Brattle. Have you seen his photographs? Check out his website.

      • Kevork says:

        Yes, I have. Personally, I don’t care much about his brand of photography: rather heavy on post-production technique and limited in scope, although I can understand the wide popularity it enjoys among some of his fans. The photos are pretty to look at, and some of his portrait work is indeed remarkable. Having said that, I do consider him a great scriptwriter and an extraordinary filmmaker, who’s not afraid to act and bare his soul in his own films.

        We’re off to Maine for a few days tomorrow, but I’ll make an effort to see this new film after we get back.

      • I like the subjects he chooses; they are very writerly. I think Anatolia is also very literary film.

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