(director/writer: Nuri Bilge Ceylan; screenwriters: Ebru Ceylan/ Ercan Kesal; cinematographer: Gokhan Tiryaki; editors: Bora Goksingol/Nuri Bilge Ceylan; cast: Muhammet Uzuner (Doctor Cemal), Yilmaz Erdogan (Commissar Naci), Taner Birsel (Prosecutor Nusret), Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan (Driver Arab Ali), Firat Tanis (First Suspect Kenan), Burhan Yildiz (Second suspect, Ramazan), Ercan Kesal (Mukhtar, mayor), Kubilay Tunçer (Autopsy Technician Sakir), Safak Karali (Courthouse Clerk Abidin), Emre Sen (Sergeant Onder), Murat Kiliç (Police Officer Izzet), Ugur Aslanoglu (Courthouse Driver Tevfik), Erol Erarslan (Murder Victim Yasar), Nihan Okutucu (Yasar’s wife Gülnaz), Cansu Demirci (Mukhtar’s Daughter Cemile); Runtime: 157; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Zeynep Ozbatur Atakan; Cinema Guild; 2011-Turkey-in Turkish with English subtitles)

It’s a masterpiece crime story that uniquely tells us as much about searching for the truth in modern Turkey as it does about violent criminals and those who prosecute them.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Turkey’s key filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Distant”/”Climates”/”Three Monkeys”)is one of the world’s best. Hehelms this bleak but intelligent meditative police procedural film involving a murder investigation at night in the Anatolian countryside just outside of Ankara. It’s a masterpiece crime story that uniquely tells us as much about searching for the truth in modern Turkey as it does about violent criminals and those who prosecute them.

A man named Yasar Toprak has been brutally murdered and the facially bruised suspect Kenan (Firat Tanis) claims to have been drunk and not quite sure where he buried the body, as he leads three police vehicles at night on a wild goose choose as they go to the different spots where the accused thinks he buried the body. The police caravan traverses the winding dirt roads and hilly terrain of the Anatolian countryside with the only light on the landscape coming from the car headlights. This beautiful but eerie visual makes it appear as if we entered the dream world and were no longer communicating as if we were conscious.

The car riders include the following: the outsider young doctor who moved to the small village from the city and is brought along as a witness to the finding of the corpse, Dr. Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner); the bossy well-spoken cautionary prosecutor, whose young wife mysteriously died, and who is anxious to get back to Ankara without anyone finding fault with his leading the investigating team, Nusret (Taner Birsel); the unhappy, volatile and at times vulnerable Police Chief Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan); the sullen prime murder suspect Kenan and his not too bright accomplice suspect brother Ramazan (Burhan Yildiz); the lap top carrying courthouse clerk Abidin (Safak Karali); the genial but more complex than he appears Arab driver (Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan); the sometimes befuddled courthouse driver Tevfik (Ugur Aslanoglu); and, several diggers, policemen and soldiers.

As the search continues all night, the law enforcement people briefly stop at a nearby village for a meal at the hospitable mayor’s (Ercan Kesal) house, and he tells them he will be seeking funds for his poor village to build a morgue.

The bored investigators get into trite small talk amongst themselves throughout the night that reveal their anxieties, their political instincts for survival and lets the door open for several secrets to inadvertently come out about the killer and the lawmen.

The power of the film is in the way it travels with great beauty across many different roads, the way it sticks to being grounded in the everyday aspects of the troubling event despite there being little suspense other than where the body is buried and, the more it moves on in the dark, the more provocatively it questions human nature by bringing into focus a curious story that seemingly has nothing to do with the murder investigation yet might have everything to do with it. Ceylan playfully and seriously wants to clue us in about the human condition by telling us the insidious truth that “Most suicides are intended to punish someone else.” And when the investigation ends on the next morning after the police discovered at night that the corpse had been accidentally dug up by a wild dog, we see the corpse in a different light as its identified by his widow and examined in a hospital lab during an autopsy.

It’s an adult fairy tale crime story that won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da (2011)