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ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, CANNES 2011

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest film ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (2011) premiered in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where the film won Grand Prix. A Turkish and Bosnian co-production, the film screened to audiences at the 17th Sarajevo Film Festival in the Open Air Theater on July 25th, 2011. The cast and crew attended a press conference at SFF on July 26th to answer questions in detail about their much beloved new film.

 

A stream of cars with illuminated headlights meanders through the countryside. Five men sit in our main car, their expression downcast. To pass the time, the men chitchat, sometimes joking and other times thinking aloud. One quiet man, Suspect Kenan, with a solemn aspect sits in the middle of the back with his eyes half shut, drifting. When his eyes open they are mysterious and intense, murderous and sorrowful. While nothing seams to be happening on the surface of this strange unanswered situation, the scene leaves us full of question. Who are these men? What are they all doing out in the middle of nowhere, freezing, somber and tired? It soon becomes clear that we are in search of a body and only our quiet prisoner Kenan with his dark mystifying countenance has the answer. Somewhere in these hills lies the body of a murdered man that they must find as soon as possible.

Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s style is all his own. An auteur in the truest sense, reminiscent of Lynch or Malick, he sways in and out of reality and dream so lyrically that the two worlds become one. In this film there is a scene where two tired searching men stand in a vacant field at night, looking out in the distance contemplating life and death. You don't know if the words are spoken aloud or merely being thought. The trees sway, the night shivers and the surrounding nature hums. The direction is so natural you forget you are watching a film and not sitting right next to them at that moment.

The night is long and the men tired and hungry. They find hospitality (few are as hospitable as the Turks) in the home of the Village Head who feeds them fresh lamb and sweet Turkish milk. We know there is honey fresh from the comb because the Prosecutor is offered some for himself. The House Head has his beautiful young daughter prepare some honey for him in a jar. The direction is so precise and real, I could practically smell the lamb, the bread, the honey and the blood. Only when the electricity abruptly snaps out that I remembered I was not actually at the dinner table with them.

Later when the lights illume again, the men sit around gas lamps while the House Head’s daughter serves them tea. Our dark and mysterious Kenan cries with emotion at the sight of her pure ingenuous face. Her countenance is angelic and innocent while he himself is guilty of murder. His reaction to her face is tears of guilt and shame. Suddenly, a man who we haven't seen before appears in the corner of the room. A ghost? One prisoner laughs with joy at the sight of the man; having thought him dead, he is relieved to see him alive. But the ghost-man is pale and the night shivers again, the trees outside whisper and nature hums. Is all of this real or just a dream?

When finally the body is found, we see it was the body of the ghost-man whose image we saw at night. There is relief from everyone that now this horrible search can end and they can return home. Some levity ensues and even cathartic tears of anger and disgust. But then a new reality sets in, the presence of dark death, and not just the idea of it. The body is carried to the trunk and the men pile back into the cars, their headlights on, the stream of cars snaking through the countryside once again, this time homeward bound. And here is where one journey ends and a new will begin.

 

During the press conference in Sarajevo, Nuri told press and those present: “Chekov is always with me when I write my scripts because he wrote on every aspect of life so he is always with me.”

PRESS: You were an electrical engineer first. Who is to blame for you making the transition into filmmaking? Your travels? Your photography? The autobiography or Roman Polanski or Chekov?

NURI: I don’t know, of course. Maybe a total of everything. I think when I decided to become a director there was no art around me. There was photography.

PRESS: How is it that every movie you make wins a prize at Cannes? It’s almost impossible and must be making a lot of directors jealous.

NURI: I cannot say anything about this because that’s not my feeling because when I finish a movie, I always have a bad feeling about the movie because when I finish a movie I am not satisfied, because I am always concentrated on the weak side of the movie so I’m not expecting it to be accepted into these festivals. Maybe I am a very pessimistic person. But then when they select it for something I am always surprised.

 

Well, Nuri the perfectionist seems to have struck a chord because while some are indifferent to the film and others just haven’t seen it, many who have seen it agree it is one of the most ‘perfect’ films they have ever seen. A lyrical masterpiece set in Turkey and a name to tower above others…’Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’.

written by Vanessa McMahon July 31, 2011

 

photos by Vanessa McMahon at SFF 2011

Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan

 

photos below of cast and crew of OUTIA at Cannes 2011, by Vanessa McMahon

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