BFI London Film Festival 2011: ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has been a Cannes favourite since his debut film Koza won the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film in 1995, so it came as little surprise when his latest film, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), walked away with Grand Jury Prize earlier this year. However, Ceylan’s win is down to far more than simple industry favouritism, and we’re extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to see such a supreme masterclass in filmmaking at this year’s 55th BFI London Film Festival.

Starting at dusk and ending around the middle of the next day, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia follows the meticulous (if at times amateurish) investigation into the apparent murder of a local man at the hands of his two friends. Ceylan provides no motive or explanation for this seemingly random killing, instead preferring to focus on the interaction between the assisting Doctor Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner), Clark Gable-lookalike Prosecutor Nusret (Taner Birsel), Commissar Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan) and his band of merry (if clueless) men.

Ceylan’s film is an almost unparalleled mediation on crime and punishment without ever depicting the heinous events that the posse are investigating. The Grand Jury Prize winners direction is meticulous yet expansive, revelling in the hugely spacious Anatolion steppes that hides at least one body (if not hundreds) beneath its rolling soil.

Perhaps more surprising is the amount of humour (most of it of the gallows variety) that Ceylan manages to squeeze out of the scenario. A running joke involving Nusret’s resemblance to Clark Gable – even brushing his moustache nonchalantly at the very prospect – provides some genuinely funny light relief that perfectly complement the film’s darker, more serious moments.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia may not be the most formally inventive or radical film at this year’s LFF, but it is one of the most perfectly realised. Humorous, engaging, thoughtful and visually magnificent in equal measures, your festival experience really wouldn’t be complete without Ceylan’s cinematic masterstroke.

For more BFI London Film Festival 2011 coverage, simply follow this link.

Daniel Green