Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA is from celebrated Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the director of Distant, Climates, and Winter Sleep.
In the dead of night, a group of men – including a police commissioner, a prosecutor, a doctor and a murder suspect – drive through the tenebrous Anatolian countryside searching for a corpse, the victim of a brutal murder. The suspect claims he was drunk and can’t quite remember where the body was buried. As the night draws on, tensions escalate and secret details about the murder come to light. When the body is found, the real questions begin.
A long night's journey into day.

Capsule review: The synopsis of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's fable of a late night corpse-recovery exercise reads like a kind of CSI: Anatolian Steppe procedural. However, this profound Turkish oddity refuses to be boxed in by genre convention, and made for one of my most rewarding cinema experiences of 2011.

With just the unreliable memory of the accused as their guide, a tired convoy of swarthy detectives snakes through the dark, looking for a dead man whose resting place is the geographical equivalent of a needle in a haystack. An  existential journey ensues, lit by hatchback headlight. Over the course of this transformative night, men who are familiar to each other start to see themselves in a new light, as their superficial small talk gives way to remembrance of their absent women. By the time the day breaks, small clues have revealed sombre truths about human nature.

The film has a lengthy running time, yes, but Nuri Bilge Ceylan uses it responsibly and in service of his characters.  

Five stars. 

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'Once Upon A Time In Anatolia producer Zeynep Ozbatur Atakan and cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki speak to SBS Movies' Fiona Williams about the film's distinct look, and the impact of its Grand Prix award at the Cannes Film Festival.


Watch 'Once Upon a Time In Anatolia'

SBS Viceland, Midday, Thursday 21 March
SBS on Demand after broadcast

Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2000

Language: Turkish
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan