An American audience spoon-fed on quick-paced television crime dramas may find the Turkish film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia a bit snoozy.
But what director Nuri Bilge Ceylan achieves with the powerful and profound film is an honest examination of how people who deal with murder every day cope with the alternately morbid and banal details.
The movie opens on a rainy night at a gas station in rural Turkey where drink and tempers collide with an unseen altercation. A short time later, three cars driving through a hilly, unpopulated area stop and reveal their passengers: two handcuffed suspects accompanied by cops, attorneys, and a medical examiner on a hunt for a body. But the suspects' memories are faulty, so while the search goes on (and the countryside's knolls and valleys all begin to look alike), the discussion turns to other subjects, from ring tones to prostate exams to yogurt.
It is a full 90 minutes into the movie (after a leisurely breakfast in the home of a village elder) before anyone can say of the body, "It's here." Once the victim is unearthed, the players probe the suspects for clues to a motive. It's played at the speed of molasses - just like it must be in real life, where crimes don't get easily solved in 45 minutes. But that doesn't mean it's not interesting.
The final act occurs in a coroner's office, where an autopsy is made more grisly through the use of sound than gory visuals - like the resistant snip of big scissors and the crunch of breaking bones. Beautifully photographed and lit, the film is a kind of salute to the professions that help crimes get solved. And as the last devastating shot makes clear, a murder victim leaves nothing behind but a tragic story heavy with grief and loss.