Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkish: Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da) is a 2011 internationally co-produced drama film, co-written and directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan based on the true experience of one of the film's writers, telling the story of a group of men who search for a dead body on the Anatolian steppe. The film, which went on nationwide general release across Turkey on September 23, 2011 , premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it was a co-winner of the Grand Prix.
|Once Upon a Time in Anatolia|
Original theatrical poster
|Directed by||Nuri Bilge Ceylan|
|Produced by||Zeynep Özbatur Atakan|
|Written by||Nuri Bilge Ceylan|
|Edited by||Bora Gökşingöl|
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
|Distributed by||The Cinema Guild|
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Through the night, three cars carry a small group of men – police officers, a doctor, a prosecutor, grave diggers, gendarmerie forces, and two brothers, homicide suspects – around in the rural surroundings of the Anatolian town Keskin, in search of a buried body. Kenan, one of the suspects, leads them from one water fountain to another; at the time of the crime he was drunk and he cannot recall where he and his mentally challenged brother buried the body. The darkness and visual indistinctness of the landscape do not help; each spot looks the same as the others.
Meanwhile, the men discuss a variety of topics, such as yoghurt, lamb chops, urination, family, spouses, ex-wives, death, suicide, hierarchy, bureaucracy, ethics, and their jobs. Philosophy is also discussed, with one apparently central and particular idea/theme mentioned a couple of times throughout the film—the idea that children invariably pay for their parents' mistakes.
After many stops the prosecutor begins to tell the doctor about a particularly mysterious death where a woman correctly predicted to her husband the exact date of her own death, which was a short time after she had given birth to a child. The story is interrupted when the prosecutor sees some of his men lashing out at Kenan after discovering that once again they are in the wrong spot. As the group discusses what to do next, Kenan asks the doctor for a cigarette which he tries to give him. Commisar Naci stops him however and tells Kenan that he can have a cigarette when he earns it.
The group stops at a nearby village to eat at the home of the town mayor. The mayor pleads with the prosecutor to speak to the authorities of his town to help provide funds to build a morgue where bodies can be prepared. When some of the men suggest that he simply bury the bodies quickly the man informs them that emigration means that only old people are left in the town and when their children learn of their deaths they beg him not to bury the bodies immediately so that they may come back and see their parents one last time.
The wind causes a power outage during which the mayor's young daughter brings the men tea on a tray, with a lamp on the tray lighting her face. Several of the men are struck by her beauty. After seeing her Kenan begins to cry.
While waiting for the light to come back on the doctor asks about the cause of death of the woman who predicted her own death. and the prosecutor says it was natural, a heart attack. The doctor then asks whether an autopsy was performed, and the prosecutor replies that there was no need as the cause of death was obvious and unsuspicious. The doctor suggests that it may have been a self-induced heart attack with the use of drugs and therefore a suicide.
Meanwhile, Kenan reveals what happened the night of the killing – while drunk he let slip the secret that the victim's son was actually his, and then things got ugly. After confessing to the comissar he is given a cigarette.
Daylight breaks. Kenan finally takes them to the correct location where the group is able to unearth the body which they discover to their horror has been hogtied. Needing to take the body to the hospital to be autopsied they realize that they do not have a body bag and that the body, now untied, had been tied by Kenan in order to make it fit in the trunk of his car. After contemplating whether to tie the body up again they succeed in making it fit by bending the corpse.
The mother and son (perhaps 12 years old) are waiting outside the hospital. The son throws a stone at Kenan hitting him between the eyes. Kenan cries.
At the hospital the prosecutor again discusses the woman who predicted her own death with the doctor. They further discuss the possibility of suicide, where it is established that a certain prescription drug could have been used to induce the heart attack. The prosecutor is familiar with the drug as his father-in-law took it for his heart problems. Possible reasons for suicide are also discussed, and the two come to a possible motive—her husband's confirmed infidelity. At the end of the discussion the prosecutor's behavior suggests that the woman may have been his own wife.
The prosecutor invites the victim's wife to identify the body in the hospital morgue, files the necessary paperwork, and departs, leaving the doctor to perform the autopsy. The autopsy reveals the presence of soil in the lungs, implying that the victim had been buried alive, but the doctor intentionally omits that from the report.
The movie ends with a shot from the doctor's perspective of the mother and son in the distance walking away with the husband's belongings. The son sees that a soccer ball has been accidentally kicked far from a schoolyard and he runs and retrieves it and kicks it back to the children in the yard. He then runs back to his mother.
- Muhammet Uzuner as Doctor Cemal
- Yılmaz Erdoğan as Commissar Naci
- Taner Birsel as Prosecutor Nusret
- Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan as Chauffeur Arap Ali
- Fırat Tanış as Suspect Kenan
- Ercan Kesal as Mukhtar
- Cansu Demirci as Mukhtar's Daughter
- Erol Erarslan as Murder Victim Yaşar
- Uğur Arslanoğlu as Courthouse Driver Tevfik
- Murat Kılıç as Police Officer İzzet
- Şafak Karali as Courthouse Clerk Abidin
- Emre Şen as Sergeant Önder
- Burhan Yıldız as Suspect Ramazan
- Nihan Okutucu as Yaşar's wife Gülnaz
Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan grew up in a small town similar to the one in the film in terms of mentality and hierarchy, and says he feels a close connection to the characters depicted. The story is based on real events. One of Ceylan's co-writers was an actual doctor, and, in order to attain his license, had been required to work for two years in the town where the plot is set. The story in the film is based on very similar events the co-writer experienced during this period. The title of the film references Sergio Leone's film Once Upon a Time in the West, and was something one of the drivers uttered during the actual events. When writing the screenplay, the filmmakers tried to be as realistic as possible, and the main aim was to portray the special atmosphere, which had left a strong impression on the doctor. A number of quotations from stories by Anton Chekhov were incorporated in the script. The prosecutor's story about his wife committing suicide is borrowed from a Chekhov's short story The Examining Magistrate (Следователь, 1887). The film was produced through Turkey's Zeyno Film, in co-production with the Bosnian company Production2006 Sarajevo, and the Turkish companies NBC Film, 1000 Volt Post Production, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, Imaj and Fida Film. Filming took place during eleven weeks around Keskin, a district of the Kırıkkale Province in Central Anatolia. It was shot in the CinemaScope format.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Nominee(s)||Result|
|Asia Pacific Screen Award||24 November 2011||Achievement in Cinematography||Gökhan Tiryaki||Won|
|Achievement in Directing||Nuri Bilge Ceylan||Won|
|Best Feature||Zeynep Özbatur Atakan
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
|Best Screenplay||Ercan Kesal
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
|Jury Grand Prize||Won|
|Cannes Film Festival||22 May 2011||Grand Prix (tied with The Kid with a Bike)||Nuri Bilge Ceylan||Won|
|Chicago Film Critics Association||17 December 2012||Best Foreign Language Film||Nominated|
|Cinemanila International Film Festival||17 November 2011||Main Competition – Best Director||Nuri Bilge Ceylan||Won|
|Dubai International Film Festival||7–14 December 2011||Muhr AsiaAfrica Feature: Best Cinematographer||Gökhan Tiryaki||Won|
|Muhr AsiaAfrica Feature: Special Jury Prize||Nuri Bilge Ceylan||Won|
|European Film Awards||1 December 2012||Best Cinematographer||Gökhan Tiryaki||Nominated|
|Best Director||Nuri Bilge Ceylan||Nominated|
|Independent Spirit Awards||23 February 2013||Best Foreign Film||Nominated|
|Jameson Dublin International Film Festival||26 February 2012||Best Director||Nuri Bilge Ceylan||Won|
|Karlovy Vary International Film Festival||9 July 2011||NETPAC Award||Won|
|London Film Critics' Circle||20 January 2013||Director of the Year||Nominated|
|Foreign Language Film of the Year||Nominated|
|New York Film Critics Circle||3 December 2012||Best Foreign Language Film||Nominated|
|Oslo Films from the South Festival||16 October 2011||Best Feature||Nuri Bilge Ceylan||Nominated|
|Philadelphia Film Festival||29 October 2011||Audience Award Honorable Mention Masters||Won|
The film has been met with critical acclaim. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 94% based on 70 reviews, with an average rating of 8.2/10, while Metacritic gives a weighted average rating of 82 based on reviews from 21 critics, indicating "universal acclaim." 
Dave Calhoun reviewed the film for Time Out London: "Ceylan is a sly and daring screen artist of the highest order and should draw wild praise with this new film for challenging both himself and us, the audience, with this lengthy, rigorous and masterly portrait of a night and day in the life of a murder investigation[.]" Calhoun compared the film to the director's previous works and noted how it to a lesser extent follows genre conventions: "Displaying a new interest in words and story (albeit of the most elusive kind), Once Upon A Time in Anatolia feels like a change of direction for Ceylan and may disappoint those who were especially attracted to the urbane melancholia of Uzak and Climates. ... Beyond being chronological, the film follows no obvious storytelling pattern. Things happen when they do and at a natural rhythm. ... Ceylan invites us along for the ride – but only if we're up for it."
Sight & Sound listed Once Upon a Time in Anatolia as the 8th best film of 2012. Stephen Holden of The New York Times named it the sixth best movie of 2012, and "a searching reflection on the elusiveness of truth."
In 2016, the film was named as the 54th best film of the 21st century, from a poll of 177 film critics from around the world.
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