Once upon a time in Anatolia Nuri Ceylan (2011 Turkey) Muhammet Uzunur; Yilmaz Erdogan; Taner Birsel; Firat Tanis
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 27 March 2012 Ticket: £6.95
The Lady with the Lamp
In the opening lengthy post title shot (there is a pre-title twilight shot that I didn’t understand) we see, in long shot, three cars snaking through the night along the winding roads across the hilly mountainous Anatolian terrain. Outlined in the thin beams of their headlights, the small cars move slowly forward. This shot is the first of the night sequences of the film and it is this long opening nocturnal section that defines NC’s intention in realising his script.
This part of the film is a long endless spiralling into and through night as space and night as time. The men, the public prosecutor, the policeman and forensic doctor accompany two suspected murderers who have said they will reveal the whereabouts of the body of the man they have killed. The immense darkness of the storm blasted country swallows everything. The blind lead the blind in a quest of futility. They are lost in the space. They are lost in time. The men, characterised by an everyday physical awkwardness are all claimed by forces from other places other times. Unending internal dialogues. A parallel metaphysical journey lays claim to their psyches, engendering states of mind that abstract them from the present. There is darkness in the soul.
This is a culture where, outside of the very large cities, women are absent from the public domain. And each of the significant male officials in the car, is accompanied by an absent woman. A female shadow being whose absence haunts and overwhelms. The film is characterised by what is not present to the senses. This metaphysical proposition is made real, given body in the pivotal sequence of NC’s film. During the visit to a village where the party is dined by the mayor there is a power cut. The mayor orders his youngest daughter to bring an oil lamp and serve tea. As the girl stands before the men and hands to each their glass of tea, they look up into her face which appears like a revelation of a Platonic form: the actualisation of the feminine. The appearance of her visage is a psychic force that transforms. (Like the image of Florence Nightingale with her lamp in the wards of Soutari – was this NC’s starting point?) After the scene with the lady with the lamp the psychic darkness momentarily disperses. Night becomes day. The body is found. But the fleeting apparition cannot heal the mental wounds of phantom women moving through the disturbed consciousness of the men. They continue trapped in double lives in which outer symbolism of gesture and inner thought process become ever more detached. No one is ever where they seem to be. The men are all some place else.
Nuri Ceylan’s (NC) Once upon a time in Anatolia (OTA) called to mind the recent output of films from Romania, in particular Porumboui’s movies. The characteristic feature that OTA shares with Cristiu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective is a clear sense of purpose and a sure grasp of the filmic means employed to achieve intended goals. And their intended goals are not embedded in simple narrative deployment; but are metaphysical journeys into and through cultural darkness. Both NC and Porumboiu foster states of mind in which fleetingly intense moments of clarity are attained. Porumboiu is politically attuned (though the scenes of the cop with his wife have an intense symbolic personal resonance); NC in OTA attunes to social and personal dimensions of his characters. An awareness of the defining features of Turkish social life, as the country in its crazy unplanned way lurches towards Westernisation as a subjectivity.
NC’s title points up the irony he sees within modern story telling. In traditional fairy tales giants beasts and fabulous creatures roamed the land as externalised phantasms that enabled man to gauge his own measure. Today monsters and the fears they engender, are internalised taking on their forms within our minds. Once in residence they become states of being forces that slowly inexorably consume us from within.
States of mind may be the concern of OTA but the base upon which NC interweaves the actions and thoughts of his protagonists, is a slate of dark black humour. The dark humour is the medium that links the internalised reverberating internal dialogues of the men to the external business of driving through the Anatolian night, digging the earth, exhuming and dissecting corpses. It is a humour of that insinuates itself into the gap between the actual and the mental, the logical consequence of disassociation of mind and body.
The other linking between current Romanian films and NC is the way in which are actors are used. Contemporary Iranian films also share this quality of acting. The outwardly exaggerated expressive use of face and body to create a gestural syntax of emotion using mouth teeth eyes and eyebrows, characterises most Western films. Most of the acting is done to fill out roles, and it is if the actors trapped in their roles are required to indulge in a sort of desperate signage of appropriate approved response. In OTA there is a trusting of the actors, and by extension, a trusting by NC of the audience, that through the direction, through the scenario, through the dialogue everything that needs to be stated about their characters will become evident. The powerful emotions are the more powerful for being understated, with the control of feelings being expressively more powerful than their exhibition. In the West with the circuitry of amplification that drives feedback loops between expressive modes in soap opera drama and real life, the outcome is that expression is cheapened, subject to fabrication and manipulation. To this extent NC and the other film makers from this region are giving their Western audience a chance to understand and reclaim dignity of feeling. adrin neatrour email@example.com
Lo! in that house of misery A lady with a lamp I see Pass through the glimmering gloom, And flit from room to room.