I've started this first paragraph a half dozen times and then quickly deleted what I've written. I'm trying to express myself in a particular way, but I just can't seem to find the words, so I'll just come out and say it. 'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia' is one of those dreadfully long, over-indulgent foreign films that critics feel they must adore because they don't want to be seen as the person who just didn't "get it."
Is there anything to get about 'Anatolia'? Maybe. The problem is that it takes far too long to get to wherever it's going. All too often with slow-moving movies like this, the caveat comes from critics, about viewers needing "patience," which often means, "This movie is a slog, I understand that there are long parts of nothingness, but there are a few nuggets of wisdom sprinkled in amongst the chaff."
I'm sure there are some people out there that absolutely adore Nuri Bilge Ceylan's film, but I'm not one of them. It's an art house film through and through, and it never lets you forget it. After about the tenth long-shot of a convoy of cars rounding a bend in the silent Turkish night it becomes obvious that this is a movie that is going to linger just for lingering's sake.
At 157 minutes 'Anatolia' is a movie that mistakes lingering shots of actors walking, cars driving, and wind blowing as some kind of ingenious subtext. Could it be that these shots, while strikingly well-composed at times, are simply just shots of people, cars, and waving trees? It's easy to try and read into a movie like 'Anatolia,' to try and discern all its different forms of subtext and sub-subtext, but that seems to be a byproduct of justifying sitting through its abominably long runtime. "There must be something here right? Something deep and emotionally resonant, otherwise why did I spend two and a half hours watching it?"
'Anatolia' follows the (long) story of a group of Turkish policemen who have arrested two murder suspects. Along with a local doctor and the city's prosecutor, they set out on a journey to find the body of the victim, which is buried somewhere near a fountain in the countryside. Only the suspect was far too drunk to remember where he buried the body, so the police go from fountain to fountain trying to find the body.
The search inevitably reveals more about the characters looking for the body than it does about the man who committed the act. The body is the great MacGuffin. It's the way to get the cast of characters together so they can reflect about their past with other characters and then proceed to stare off into the black abyss, thinking…ever thinking.
'Anatolia' won the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Film Festival because Cannes can't get enough of this lingering, introspective indulgence. Perhaps I was in the wrong mood when I viewed the movie. I enjoy thoughtful, reverent introspection as much as the next person, but 'Anatolia' wore me out. It confuses slow with meaningful. The narrative, if there really is one, moves at the speed of frozen molasses. It's stunningly anti-climactic and has no sense of pace. It simply hopes that the longer it endures and the more lingering shots it shows that people will inevitably concede that there is something there even if they're completely unsure of what it is. While it's quite possible that 'Anatolia' is one of the most profound movies ever made, it's also entirely possible that you just sat through 157 minutes of near-pointless oblivion staring and you just don't want to admit it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Anatolia' is a Cinema Guild release. It's been pressed onto a 50GB Blu-ray Disc and has been packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. Inside is a small booklet, only a couple pages, contains a biography about the movie's director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The back of the case lists it as being a region free release.
Save one imperfection (which we'll discuss in a moment), this is a stunningly beautiful high-def presentation. One that never ceases to amaze when it comes to fully rendered detail and gorgeously composed scenery.
The first half of the movie takes place solely at night. If the movie featured any sort of crushing shadows the entire presentation would be for nothing. Fortunately, the black levels presented here are deep and inky. Shadows perfectly accentuate even the tiniest details. Car headlights cut through the darkness illuminating fields of grass casting over-exaggerated shadows. Silhouettes of men are strikingly defined against the oblivion of blackness that is the backdrop of the countryside. Even though it's pitch-black out here there are so many details to take in. Under the light of headlights and moonlight individual leaves can be seen fluttering in the trees. Even a sparkling stream of water, far off in the distance, is perfectly visible as it exits the fountain tap and pours into its basin.
As you may have guessed, if the nighttime scenes are that detailed, then when the sun finally does come up the detail is just as rich. Faces feature wonderfully realistic age-lines, pores, and facial hair. Colors in the daylight are richly resolved. Skintones are natural, if not a little over-saturated. The one discrepancy, which is an artifacting error, can be found during a nighttime scene. There's a scene where cars are driving in the pitch-blackness and all that can be seen is their headlights. It's a close-up shot of the headlights swinging back and forth as the cars travel on the road. The lights, as they extend out into the darkness, fail to smoothly blend with the surrounding darkness. Instead there is a two-second long shot that has some pretty egregious banding going on. It's the only artifact in an otherwise pristinely beautiful presentation.
This release provides a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Turkish mix (along with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix). There are only English subtitles on this release and they are selected by default when you start the movie.
I listened to the movie with the 5.1 surround sound mix, which was quite immersive, but in subtle ways. During the opening of the movie you can hear the faint sound of dogs barking as the opening credits roll. They were so lifelike they caused my dog, who was curled up on my lap, to perk her head up and look around to see if there were any dogs around. Out in the countryside wind can be heard sweeping through the trees and crickets chirping. While it isn't a flashy audio mix, it does a great job at drawing you in and making you feel like you're right there.
Dialogue is perfectly clear and intelligible through the center speaker. The front speakers take much of the dialogue since people are routinely speaking out of frame and the directionality captures where they would be placed impeccably. While it lacks the pizzazz that most police-centric movies have, 'Anatolia's sound mix is still just as engulfing as many of them.
Maybe I didn't get it. It's entirely possible. On the other hand, 'Anatolia' is at times, strikingly beautiful and at the same time immensely boring. It has some gorgeous cinematography, but the rest of the movie is just so slow that it feels more like a chore. The word "masterpiece" is being thrown around for this movie like crazy. Sadly, all I saw was something around the cinematic equivalent of Ambien. Judging by the great audio and video, it could be worth a rental, but I wouldn't recommend picking it up.