The 7th feature film from Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan tells the long process of small, provincial policeman who are looking for the body disposed of in the Anatolian countryside, with the murder suspect in tow to help point out the location. The local police force are escorted by a DA and doctor from the city - these souls are seemingly the only people alive in the provincial night.
Whilst on paper the scenario may make it look like a police thriller, it is actually a film about the way life shapes you into being, the difference between rural and urban life. If this film were set in the bustling metropolis of Istanbul or Ankara, it would be disturbed by a city that does not sleep.
The film is slow and long, but in a methodical way. There is a lot of talking, but the dialogue does not always reflect upon the murder and the suspect - two characters indulge in a political diatribe about the possibility of Turkey joining the EU and the relevant pros and cons of such a political move. This makes you thing perhaps this is a film with a dark satire at the center of its premise, yet in the second half it focuses upon the work of the doctor and the ensuing autopsy.
The honesty and openness of death as an essential part of life - the use of a long night's journey into daytime transfigures this a vital component of life itself.
The film is a beautiful work, shot by Gokhan Tiryaki, with some striking cinematography such as an apple swimming down a stream, the wind in the trees being captured as a character contemplates the next step. This marks the film out as a work of art.
As for Ceylan, he has clearly taken a big step in his career. Famous for small contemplative works such as Three Monkeys (2008) and Uzak (2002), he has expanded his ambition to fit this larger landscape in terms of scope and depth, without losing his characteristic traits of deftly depicting masculinity with insight in terms of their behaviour and psychology. This broad and universal appeal has helped mark him out from the crowd, and as a festival and cineaste favourite.
People often mention how Ceylan uses Chekov-ian moments of comedy as people argue over who left a body bag somewhere else; this is a form of naturalism and symptomatic of Ceylan's ear for the rhythm of dialogue - during serious moments people can easily get distracted by mundane and trivial things.
Fittingly, the film has been released shortly after the death of fellow Mediterranean director, Theo Angelopoulos - a director who followed a similar career path from minimalist beginnings into grander masterworks such as Ulysses Gaze (1995) and Eternity and a Day (1998); these works of huge ambition were matched by political comment. Whilst Ceylan has not matched the Greek director as yet, he remains a fearless auteur whose solo vision will never be disrupted.
Once Upon A Time in Anatolia is released by New Wave Films on Friday 16th March on limited release.