Monday, 12 November 2012



It's Turkish. It's one hundred and fifty nine minutes long. It's what they call "leisurely paced" and great chunks of it takes place in long, unbroken takes from a static camera. Very little actually happens; indeed it's over an hour and twenty minutes before we even discover what the characters are looking for. It has no music. These are not qualities generally associated with a terrific night at the multiplex or a cracking Saturday night rental. So how come I wasn't bored senseless by it? How come I wasn't yelling "get on with it!" at the screen, or simply abandoning it and putting something less arcane on? After all, Strippers Vs Werewolves arrived in my postbox the same morning, it's about half as long, and it's probably got some sex and gore in it.

Watching Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is like eavesdropping on a group of people who are already in the middle of their discussion: you have to figure out for yourself what it is they're actually talking about, and no-one provides you with a handy expository recap. All we know to start with is that several men in two cars and a jeep are driving through the Turkish countryside: gradually we learn that some of them are police, one is a doctor, one a prosecutor, and two are suspects leading the police to a crime scene. In the dark, they're not sure whether they're in the right place or not. It's only the following morning, after they've spent the night in a nearby village, when they finally discover a corpse buried in a field. Who is he, why was he killed?

In some respects, it doesn't really matter: this isn't an episode of Poirot (although the clues are there: with some help from the IMDb's message boards, I am now a little clearer on what was supposed to have happened). It's more about the various individuals on the case: the increasingly angry and frustrated lead investigator losing patience with the suspect, the clearer-headed prosecutor relating a tale of a woman who died inexplicably (perhaps this is more relevant than it seems). Or the problems at the remote village, where all the young people have left, the electricity keeps dropping out and they don't even have a working morgue.

I'm not a big fan of movies where I feel the need to look them up on the IMDb afterwards to find out what happened (Michael Haneke's Hidden remains the worst offender for me), partly because the IMDb forums are awash with awe-inspiring stupidity and bad spelling, but mainly because I really should be smart enough to figure most movies out on my own. I'm not a genius, sure, but I'm not a moron either; it's not as if I look on the IMDb to understand the plot of a Chuck Norris movie but I'm not ashamed to say I needed help with something like Last Year At Marienbad. In the case of Once Upon A Time In Anatolia I did feel it justified, simply to clarify I few things I'd missed.

But its main achievement is keeping me engrossed in something that on paper couldn't be less engrossing. It's not strong on humour, though there is some agreeably ghoulish black comedy when, having dug the body up, they have to work out how to get it back to town. I liked the fact the film dispenses entirely with the use of music (I think the only music is a song briefly heard on a car radio) and I couldn't imagine where it would felt appropriate, no matter how brief or subtle - and I'm a fan of good film music. I loved the night-time photography of rural Turkey: the film looked fabulous throughout (I watched it on BluRay). And, most importantly, I didn't mind that it took its time. Some movies bore at 85 minutes full of sex and fights and things going boom. This is 159 minutes long, has none of those things, and doesn't. Which is fantastic.



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