Once Upon a Time in Anatolia: Finding the Body Is Secondary

When even the cops in this Turkish police story begin joking about bladder control, you know you’re in for a very long drive. From Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Distant, Three Monkeys), Anatolia is shot wide-screen, and its title refers you back to Sergio Leone’s epic showdowns between sheriffs and outlaws. Only here, as a caravan of weary cops weaves through the night, two killers have already been caught and cuffed; the policemen’s challenge now is to locate the shallow grave. The suspects are a pair of taciturn brothers seen in the movie’s prologue at a garage; every clue they offer leads to naught, and the posse begins to suspect they’re on a fool’s errand. With no shootouts or car chases, and only one big plot twist that refers to a long-closed case, Anatolia is an undeniable test of patience. The cops, prosecutor, and doctor on this slow journey are a morose bunch who gradually reveal their midlife disappointments with love, marriage, and family. Although the chief suspect receives a few kicks and punches, these are the guys dripping out confessions over tea and cigarettes, as night gradually surrenders to a cold dawn. While not truly a police procedural (there are a few supernatural moments beneath the full moon), the film is something like a forensic examination of the living, an autopsy of memory and loss. (Imagine one of those CSI shows written by Samuel Beckett.) The corpse, if you want to be symbolic about it, comes to represent every one of the searchers’ buried, existential complaints. Never mind the cause of death. What’s the cause for living?