A scene from Once Upon a Time in AnatoliaOnce Upon a Time in Anatolia… a large group consisting of police, public officials, military and civilian workers were led through a dark, Turkish desert by a man accused of murder. They were in search of the buried body of his victim – only he couldn’t remember exactly where he placed it. So they trek blindly through the desolate land, stopping at the slightest recognition of a landmark only to discover it’s similar to a place marker that can be found further up the road. The search continues to be fruitless and tensions rise as the night grows longer. But the conversation never gets tired.

Slow would not be an accurate description of the film’s pace, but to some extent it’s the only one. Uneventful, maybe; in the traditional sense anyway, because even though not a lot is happening, everything taking place is significant to some degree. Conversations between the characters often seem unfocused or arbitrary, but then the golden nugget appears amongst the mire – the important fact or piece of information to hold on to until later in the narrative. As a result, the viewer really does have to pay attention to all that is said, becoming somewhat of a detective in the process. In contrast, there are long silences filled with nothing but the sounds of the desert and close-ups of characters deep in thought (or half asleep).

The details of the crime are a mystery. For the majority of the film, it’s unknown who the victim is, why he was killed or how the murder suspects were discovered. Moreover, further questions arise as the tale moves forward and some questions are never answered. This is just another element that creates a captivating experience during a film that is absent of any of the bells and whistles to which audiences have become so accustomed, including a soundtrack. Ever wonder what an autopsy sounds like? Because this film makes no effort to mask the sounds, despite not displaying the visuals.

The film is very solemn outside of a few laughs. Informed by the morbidity of their mission and the lateness of the hour, the men are grave regardless of the topic, which ranges from yoghurt to the beauty of a woman they encounter. Sometimes someone will begin to say something and the camera will take a moment before showing the speaker, often holding on the listener instead.

To watch this film requires some patience, but it’s an excellent examination of people in a high stress situation.

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