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 (2011-09-23), premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it was a co-winner of the Grand Prix.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.jpg
Original theatrical poster
Directed byNuri Bilge Ceylan
Produced byZeynep Özbatur Atakan
Written byNuri Bilge Ceylan
Ercan Kesal
Ebru Ceylan
StarringMuhammet Uzuner
Yılmaz Erdoğan
Taner Birsel
CinematographyGökhan Tiryaki
Edited byBora Gökşingöl
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Zeyno Film
Distributed byThe Cinema Guild
Release date
Running time
157 minutes
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.



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.[1]

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.[2] Filming took place during eleven weeks around Keskin, a district of the Kırıkkale Province in Central Anatolia.[3] It was shot in the CinemaScope format.[2]


Award Date of ceremony Category Nominee(s) Result
Asia Pacific Screen Award[4][5] 24 November 2011 Achievement in Cinematography Gökhan Tiryaki Won
Achievement in Directing Nuri Bilge Ceylan Won
Best Feature Zeynep Özbatur Atakan
Mirsad Purivatra
Eda Arikan
İbrahim Şahin
Müge Kolat
Murat Akdilek
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Best Screenplay Ercan Kesal
Ebru Ceylan
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Jury Grand Prize Won
Cannes Film Festival[6] 22 May 2011 Grand Prix (tied with The Kid with a Bike) Nuri Bilge Ceylan Won
Palme d'Or Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association 17 December 2012 Best Foreign Language Film Nominated
Cinemanila International Film Festival[7] 17 November 2011 Main Competition – Best Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan Won
Dubai International Film Festival[8] 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[9][10] 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[11] 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[12] 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,[13] while Metacritic gives a weighted average rating of 82 based on reviews from 21 critics, indicating "universal acclaim." [14]

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."[15]

The film received the Cannes Film Festival's second most prestigious award, the Grand Prix, in a shared win with the film The Kid with a Bike by the Dardenne brothers.[16]

The film was selected as Turkey's official submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film,[17][18] but did not make the shortlist.[19]

Sight & Sound listed Once Upon a Time in Anatolia as the 8th best film of 2012.[20] Stephen Holden of The New York Times named it the sixth best movie of 2012, and "a searching reflection on the elusiveness of truth."[21]

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.[22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Proimakis, Joseph (2011-05-31). "Interview with Nuri Bilge Ceylan". Cineuropa. Retrieved 2011-07-01.
  2. ^ a b "Press kit English Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da" (PDF). Zeyno Film. Retrieved 2011-05-19.
  3. ^ Staff writer (2011-05-19). "Nuri Bilge Ceylan's 'Anatolia' making first Cannes splash". Today's Zaman. Archived from the original on 2011-07-02. Retrieved 2011-05-19.
  4. ^ George, Sandy (10 October 2011). "A Separation, Anatolia lead Asia Pacific Screen Awards nominations". Screen International. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  5. ^ Bulbeck, Pip (24 November 2011). "Asghar Farhadi's 'A Separation' wins Asia Pacific Screen Awards Best Feature". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  6. ^ Sharp, Rob (15 April 2011). "Four female nominees for Palme d'Or make it a golden year for women". The Independent. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  7. ^ "Pinoy filmmakers win top prizes at the Cinemanila International Film Festival awards night". GMA Network. 18 November 2011. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  8. ^ Shackleton, Liz (14 December 2011). "Tatsumi, Habibi scoop Dubai film festival awards". Screen International. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  9. ^ Knegt, Peter (3 November 2012). "'Amour' Leads European Film Award Nominations; 'Rust and Bone' Snubbed". IndieWire. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  10. ^ Knegt, Peter (1 December 2012). "'Amour' Sweeps European Film Awards". IndieWire. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  11. ^ "46th Karlovy Vary IFF Awards". KVIFF.com. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  12. ^ "20th Philadelphia Film Festival is a Wrap!". filmadelphia.org. 4 November 2011. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  13. ^ "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  14. ^ "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  15. ^ Calhoun, Dave (May 2011). "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia". Time Out London. Retrieved 2011-07-01.
  16. ^ Collett-White, Mike; Vinocur, Nick (2011-05-22). "Factbox: Prize winners at 2011 Cannes film festival". Reuters. Retrieved 2011-07-01.
  17. ^ "Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da Oscar'a aday adayı oldu". Haberturk. Retrieved 2011-10-01.
  18. ^ "63 Countries Vie for 2011 Foreign Language Film Oscar". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-14.
  19. ^ Nicole Sperling (2012-01-18). "Oscars: How to find 'A Separation,' other foreign-language films". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  20. ^ http://www.hitfix.com/in-contention/the-master-named-2012s-best-in-sight-sound-critics-poll
  21. ^ Holden, Stephen (December 14, 2012). "The Year of the Body Vulnerable". The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
  22. ^ 2016, 23 August. "The 21st Century's 100 greatest films". Retrieved 2016-09-16.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)

External linksEdit