Once Upon A Time In Anatolia: Nuri Bilge Ceylan won the Jury Grand Prize at Cannes earlier this year for this wonderful film. It’s not the first International Prize Ceylan has won,, either: Cannes Best Director for Three Monkeys, FIPRESCI Prizes at Cannes for Climates, Grand Jury Prize at Cannes for Distant. And many other awards. Truly, Ceylan is a Master filmmaker.
I wish I could see this film again; it’s that good and so subtle, that it would certainly benefit from repeated viewings. Anatolia is the piece of land where Europe ends and Asia begins, and the near mythological place brings to the story all of the mystery that one might expect.
In the beginning, there is a search going on for something, someone. We soon learn that the story itself is centered on an act of murder, and the confessed killer is leading the police to where the body was buried. It’s night time and the convoy includes the Police Chief, The Prosecutor, and the Coroner, among others. But it’s dark, and the landscape plays uncertain tricks on the confessed killer. He leads them to one place. Then another. Then yet another. They stop off at a Muslim village and are invited into the home of the village leader. The conversation turns to religion and local politics. They leave. Finally, the body is found, They forgot to bring the body bag. They are forced to cram the body into the trunk of one of the cars. The Police Chief has retrieved some pumpkins in the same field and dumps them into the trunk along with the body. This is one of the films images that make you do a double take, so oddly appropriate are they.
Back to where they started, the doctor directs the technician to perform the autopsy. It’s quite a graphic one, but quite unapologetically perfunctory. This is what a corpse looks like, and this is what we do to them to convince ourselves that it is dead, and that there is a cause to be found.
This is a quiet film, a visually stunning film when dawn breaks, and a deeply disturbing film on many levels. One of the absolute highlights of the festival.
See the film if you get a chance. You won’t soon forget the opening which has Violet and Daisy dressed as Nuns in a full-fledged shoot out with a slew of thugs. Violet and Daisy are hit women (?), teen assassins for hire. The tandem are a deadpan riot in this surreal, darkly comic film. They play paddy-cake to relax. They bounce up and down on their victims’ bodies in what they call their “internal bleeding dance” (squish-squish).
You’ll remember Daisy from Hanna. Saoirse Ronan is every bit as good here. Her slightly older partner (Violet) is played by Alexis Bledel, a Gilmore Girls alum (Rory Gilmore). The two are a great match. Violet has lost her last partner and fully expects that Daisy will go the same way. Violet has seen a lot in her young life, and is quite jaded. She’s a natural leader. Daisy is more of a follower and has an air of naiveté about her.
After the Nun caper, they decide to take some time off. But then they get wind of the new Barbie Sunday dress (the teen idol du jour) and in order to pay for them, take another job. Their boss wants them to off someone named Michael (James Gandolfini) who has ripped him off.
The tone of the film changes with the advent of Gandolfini’s character. The script turns more serious as Michael wants to be assassinated for various reasons. This, of course, puts the girls off their game. Gandolfini’s character is of a sweet guy who has made mistakes in his personal life, is full of regrets. Despite the fact that I would have preferred more of the quirky black humor, Gandolfini is superb here. It’s a fun film, and I came away liking it perhaps more than it deserved.