Wednesday, August 3, 2011

MIFF session 10: Once Upon a Time In Anatolia

A perfectly serviceable episode of Law and Order just directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Three cars roll through a softly undulating landscape that by day would look verdant and lush but now at night looks like the setting for a nightmare. They stop and frogmarch a young bearded man to an ancient looking drinking fountain. Is it here, they ask him. No, he says, I was wrong the tree was rounder. Everybody back in. Again and again, eah wild goose chase taking about fifteen minutes. Finally they stop for the night at a local inn and take in a meal along with a huge dollop of local history. Morning. The next sortee to find the buried victim of the killer in their care hits paydirt. The next half hour is given to a real time field police report of the crime scene. And then on to.... you get the idea.

If you were playing the Tarkovsky drinking game with this one you would be a casualty by the end of the first thirty minutes. This extremely long police procedural goes at its own pace and will neither be hurried nor suffer the illusion of hurry through nervous editing. The body is located, examined. End.

No, you don't get out of it that easy. Throughout all the waiting you do with these characters (and there is more waiting than anything outside of a Bela Tarr film) a dialogue strikes up and develops between the doctor who needs to be present and the chief prosecutor. It is about the unfortunate death of a beautiful woman. The conversation, taken up and put down repeatedly, becomes the real story of what we are seeing and as soon as that is understood, you are watching an interesting film. A film too long, for certain, but an interesting film with good characters fleshed out well with fine performances.

But at 157 minutes this tests the patience of the blessed and the canonised. Beautiful lensing over landscapes that scream cinema, faces lingeredon which time has carved with lessons and hardship. A constant and believably serious underburn. But so long and so shiftless that the arrival of the subtle denoument plays like a moment of inspiration and the final and finally arriving, at last, please make it the last, amen of a funeral service. Strong effort and modest payout but curiously satisfying.

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