Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Brilliant “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia”, Where All the World’s a Country.

There’s a famous Ital­ian say­ing which goes tut­to il mon­do e’ un paese. It’s some­times trans­lat­ed as it’s a small world. But we use that in Eng­lish when we’re far from home and we see some­thing or some­one that we only expect to see at home.

Where­as what the Ital­ians mean when they say all the world’s a coun­try, is that even here, miles from home, peo­ple live their lives wor­ry­ing about the same things, and mov­ing to the same rhythms as we all do, wher­ev­er we hap­pen to come from. If you want to wit­ness what that looks like, look no fur­ther than the bril­liant new film from Nuri Bilge Cey­lan (pro­nounced Jay-lan).

Once Upon A Time In Ana­to­lia picked up the run­ners-up prize at Cannes last year. Unfor­giv­ably, the jury gave the Palme d’Or to Mal­ick­’s hope­less­ly overblown The Tree Of Life instead, reviewed here ear­li­er. More fool them, this is a prop­er film.

In his inter­view with the Lon­don Inde­pen­dent here, Bilge Cey­lan says that his lat­est film owes more to 19th cen­tu­ry Russ­ian lit­er­a­ture than it does to any fel­low film mak­er, not with­stand­ing its title. And there’s no mis­tak­ing the air of doom and that sense of exis­ten­tial angst that hangs over the film, call­ing to mind the moral fog that so many of Dos­toyevsky’s trou­bled char­ac­ters are forced to wade through. But more than any­thing else, it’s the shad­ow of Chekov that so impres­sive­ly shrouds it.

As with all of his plays, what we get here is a small group of fig­ures in iso­la­tion who offer up a pic­ture of the world in micro­cosm. A ne’er-do-well and his sim­ple­ton broth­er have killed a man, but they can’t remem­ber where they buried the body. So the film charts the night and ear­ly morn­ing as they, the police, the doc­tor and pros­e­cu­tor traipse weari­ly across the bar­ren land­scape until they even­tu­al­ly unearth it.

But the actu­al crime is mere­ly the excuse, the MacGuf­fin as Hitch­cock called it, which allows us to wit­ness the details of the hum­drum exis­tence that they lead, and the way in which they and their sep­a­rate lives are all inter­con­nect­ed. Inevitably, in the course of their jour­ney into the night, they and we dis­cov­er the par­tic­u­lar hid­den his­to­ries that they are each defined by.

This is a pal­pa­ble advance on the film that Bilge Cey­lan was best known for up until now. Cli­mates, his forth from ’06, had a won­der­ful­ly evoca­tive dream sequence on the beach, and an impres­sive­ly fer­al and all too believ­able sex scene at its cen­tre. But the long stretch­es of ennui and detach­ment in between were all too life-like. That might be what life is like, but it’s not what most of us want our films to be like. Dra­ma is what you’re left with when all of that has been excised.

Here in con­trast, all the time that ticks over in between what lit­tle there is in the way of con­ven­tion­al plot is qui­et­ly thought-pro­vok­ing, and serves to build an increas­ing­ly com­plex por­trait of every­day lives.

It’s a man’s world to be sure. But as the fleet­ing appari­tion of the may­or’s beau­ti­ful daugh­ter demon­strates, these are men whose lives revolve around try­ing to come to terms with the absence of the women in their lives, for what­ev­er their dif­fer­ent rea­sons, and the lone­li­ness that engulfs them ever after.

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