In tomorrow's Scene online, Bilge Ebiri writes about the Turkish police drama Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which opens tonight for a brief run at The Belcourt. He describes the film as "a police procedural as imagined by Andrei Tarkovsky" and "a staggering masterpiece," but for now we'll tantalize you with his first few graphs:
The Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2003 breakout film Distant had him pegged by many as a master of Jarmuschian deadpan, a static chronicler of the drolly pathetic lives of lonely, submerged characters. But subsequent films have revealed the director to be more of a seeker both in form and content — delving into intensely intimate relationship dramas and neo-classical family tragedies. All along the way, however, he has flirted with abstraction — from occasional glimpses of his characters’ dreams to mysterious stylistic flourishes that reveal a fondness for inhabiting that middle ground between the real and the otherworldly. With his latest, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Ceylan plunges headlong into a world that is decidedly unlike any we’ve seen. It’s a film that initially seems to be set entirely in the realm of the abstract — a place of dreams, memories, myth, and a solemn coating of uncertain guilt. ...
Over the course of one night, a small group of men — some cops, a prosecutor, a doctor, two murder suspects — wander the hills of a rural region of Turkey looking for a buried body. The brooding chief suspect, who already appears to have confessed, doesn’t quite remember the spot, especially since it’s now pitch-black night. The gruffly practical police chief complains. Perhaps trying to kill time, the insistent prosecutor asks the melancholy doctor about a mysterious ailment endured by a woman he once knew. Nobody wants to be out here.
In any other director’s hands, this might have been a recipe for tedium, but Ceylan, who is also an accomplished photographer, understands that texture and light matter. He weaves a sensuous, dreamlike web over the proceedings: Blinding spots of light pierce the impossibly black night air; giant stone faces are revealed by brief flashes of lightning; characters wander into the dark and seem almost able to touch long-forgotten memories. We seem to be in a world where the living and the dead exist together.