by Allan Fish
(Turkey 2011 150m) DVD1/2
Aka. Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da
Darkness and cold with enfold my weary soul
p Zeynep Ozbatur d Nuri Bilge Ceylan w Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ercan Cesal, Ebru Ceylan ph Gokhan Tiryaki ed art Cagri Erdogan
Muhammet Uzuner (Dr Cemal), Taner Birsel (Prosecutor Nusret), Yilmaz Erdogan (Commissar Naci), Ahmet Mumtaz Teylan (Arab Ali), Firat Tanis (Kenan), Ercan Kesal (Mayor Mukhtar), Erol Erarslan (Yasir), Ugur Asnaloglu (Tevfik), Murat Kilic (Izzet), Nihan Okutucu (Gulnaz), Safak Karali (Abidin), Cansu Demirci (Mukhtar’s daughter),
It had been nearly a decade since Uzak, the film that not only promoted its director Nuri Bilge Ceylan as a talent to follow but arguably put modern Turkish cinema on the map. Since then other directors have loomed into focus – Fatih Akin, Semih Kaplanoglu, Oscan Alper, to name but a trio – and now, along with perhaps Romania, it’s become the breakthrough national cinema of the 21st century. Ceylan himself had made films in the interim, but while Climates had some wonderful narrative touches and Three Monkeys was a pleasant enough appetiser, one could hardly call them veritable feasts worthy of the next Tarkovsky, as he has often been seen. Being honest, other directors perhaps now seem closer to Tarkovsky’s ideologies, but one thing Ceylan has always had is an eye for visuals and, in particular, very deliberate and exact camera placement.
Anatolia is essentially a two act piece. The first details the search for a body in the Turkish steppes, beginning at dusk and continuing long into the night when the suspect can’t seem to pinpoint the burial location. Along for the ride, along with the police chief, are the public prosecutor, the police doctor and an army representative. When tempers start to fray, the prosecutor suggests they call a halt to proceedings for the night and they go for shelter at a local village, where they are put up by the local mayor. He wastes no opportunity in trying to get the prosecutor to agree to help push for funding for a new morgue in the village and to replace a broken cemetery wall. And if the first act takes place entirely under the cover of night, the second picks up the action the following morning, when the body is found almost instantly and is taken back to HQ for the necessary medical examinations.
The comparison to Romanian cinema is well-founded as the films of both countries share a common visual palette, almost documentarist techniques and a sense of the absurdity of bureaucracy. Think of the form-filling jobsworths who ship around the unfortunate Mr Lazarescu in Cristi Piui’s attack on medical services or the officiousness of the cops in Parumboiu’s Police Adjective. Here the interest lies partly in jurisdiction, so the army officer asks whether he takes orders from the police chief or the prosecutor, the doctor tries to carry out according to procedure and the prosecutor is forced to take a look at his own personal outlook. A previous case which he’d put down to fate suddenly comes back into focus when the doctor makes him realise it may not just have been a medical ‘act of God’. Then the doctor himself is forced to take action that seems more expedient than correct during the climactic autopsy.
What will frustrate many about Anatolia is its sense of ambiguity. No sides are taken, for right or wrong, by the book or maverick. Expectations are turned on their head, right from that extreme long stationary crane shot in which three vehicles make their way across a hillside at dusk, their headlights blurred as if to seem like the tails of fiery comets. Illuminated only by those yellow headlights, the first half seems bathed in a golden glow, but it’s a flow that lights up faces in a very revealing way, so that when the mayor’s young daughter offers a drink to the visitors, it’s as if an angel has come down to them from above. And a word for the performances, each completely spontaneous, with special mention to Birsel’s prosecutor, looking like a moustachioed David Strathairn deprived of sleep. If it isn’t a masterpiece, it sticks with you long after the credits roll, so vividly one might tell the story to people years from now and it may seem like a fairytale.