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Home > Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011), A Review

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011), A Review

Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Admiration For Realism

By Andres Gonzalez-Ortiz

In about 150 minutes of screen time, Nuri Bilge Ceylan takes you on a journey about how a corpse can change lives and reveal hidden truths within those who serve the law. This Cannes Film Fest Grand Prix winner proved to be a mesmerizing feature film about the nature of mankind when it comes to dealing with the concept of justice. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia follows an entourage of crime solvers and truth seekers trying to find a corpse located somewhere in the Anatolian steppes. Throughout this journey, said entourage seeps into the rhythms of the night as the search grows longer and longer to the point that the night ends and a new day starts. This search begins with a sort of dark humorous tone that turns into irritation. A film that sounds like it would be a thrilling and exciting crime drama turns out to be this introspective and slow-burn crime drama that unearths not only a body but the truth. 


With Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, the biggest challenge as a viewer is to keep up with the slow-burning nature of the plot. Once you get past this, though, the film really shines. The entourage mentioned before consists of police detectives, a commissioner, a doctor, and two suspects in the crime. The beginning, for the most part, is just a fill-in-the-blank of the case at hand, a murder. Moving away from the exposition, the characters start to paint portraits of the dead body through their dialogue with each other while they drive from fountain to fountain and hill to hill looking for said body. The frustration behind the search stems from the fact that the murder suspect, Kenan, was drunk at the time of the murder and cannot properly recall the murder itself. 

The tone starts to take a turn about a quarter of the way through the movie, the point where it started to feel like there was something else going on. The film felt very grounded in its approach to the dynamic between cop and suspect with its use of force and sometimes outright abuse towards the suspect. Another thing that added to this feeling of being grounded was the conversations between the characters that would reveal their own psyche, even those who were quieter than others. There were some moments where it felt like the story was splintering into some other side story that didn’t really make sense at the time, specifically with the character Kenan.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan

This is all tied up into an almost perfect knot by the end of the movie as the pieces are put together with help from the characters. The overall atmosphere and setting of the film were very bleak for the most part and really added to the intensity of the plot and the unnerving descriptions of the victim’s death. All in all, the film felt like a tour of the countryside where the director had lived and where his friend worked as a doctor, which ended up working really well for the story and direction that Once Upon a Time in Anatolia took. 


The acting in this film is stellar. A great majority of the lines delivered in this film are done in such a way that it feels gut-wrenchingly real to hear as an audience, but in the way that it keeps your eyes glued to the screen at the same time. Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan does a great job as Arab Ali. He specifically had his best moment in a monologue scene where he was talking with the Doctor about the nature of the times they live in and what people have to look out for. Firat Tanis is also a big highlight of the film in terms of the way he fits into the story. It took a level of genius from director Ceylan to make it so that the prosecutors sound more emotionally unstable than the murder suspect. The biggest highlights in terms of character were the Doctor (Muhammet Uzuner) and the Commissioner (Yilmaz Erdogan). The performances of the two are something to truly behold and take note of for future reference. Overall, the film was realistically acted and cast perfectly down to even the very small side characters. 

Final Rating

When all is said and done, this film is a 5 out of 5-star movie. It truly is something that shakes the very being of the viewer to the core and had me interested in the murder mystery from start to finish, no matter how slow the pacing is. Upon rewatching, it is super satisfying to notice things that led to the discovery at the end. The attention to detail of the film is almost something of magic, and its ability to stay true to reality is beyond impressive. The film is truly deserving of the win at the Cannes Film Festival. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is available to watch on MUBI through Amazon Prime Channels.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011) Official Zeynofilm Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Andres E. Gonzalez-Ortiz

Hi! I am a Dramatic Writing and Performing Arts major at SCAD from Puerto Rico. I have an intense passion for all things film, tv, and music. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and putting it out there is the most important.