‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’
I had one of those moments of “compressed joy” on Sunday evening.
With slight anxiety, I sat at a seaside restaurant alone to watch the final of the Super League. My anxiety stemmed from the fact that Fenerbahçe, my beloved team, last year managed to miss out on the long-desired championship at the very last moment. Such a capability to disappoint made me shiver in the warm spring evening.
I was quite right. It was a tough match against the strong, compact Sivas team and I -- with millions of other FB fans -- had to wait until the very last moment, biting our fingernails, to witness the final victory. Yes, we felt that we deserved it, because FB was -- together with arch-adversary Trabzon -- the most consistent team during the second leg of the league. It was due to Alex de Souza, a long-time world class player, and also the fact that both FB and Trabzon had the chance to be trained by top quality coaches -- Aykut Kocaman and Şenol Güneş.
But my joy at that night was double. Just as the match began, a telephone call came. On the other end of the line, my wife, screaming with joy, was telling me that he had done it again. Who? “Nuri Bilge Ceylan, of course!”
He had done it again. This time with a lengthy movie (two-and-a-half hours), titled “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.” It seems that even Ceylan himself was very surprised at the choice.
I was overjoyed, but not that astonished. When we speak about Ceylan, we are speaking about an “auteur,” whose craftsmanship can only be compared to Michelangelo Antonioni, Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman. Not that he has placed himself in the same class as them, but what Ceylan has done is to follow their path and to master a language of his own. All of his films so far have been upward steps in that sense, with his powerful skill to use the vision, the camera and images to decode the eternal loneliness of the universe, ever challenging the human psyche. What separates Ceylan from his European contemporaries is just that, a distinctive eye and the ability to narrate through the lens without much reliance on oral tradition.
His first film “Koza” (Cocoon), a short feature, already signaled a great talent. Then came “Uzak” (Distant), which in a sweep established him among the rising stars, winning both the Grand Prix and the Best Actor award in Cannes in 2003. His powerful presence in cinema was proven by the prestigious Best Director award in Cannes for “Üç Maymun” (Three Monkeys) in 2008. (To this day, “Uzak” remains my favorite, although I suspect the new one may change that order.)
But, what is taking place is beyond Ceylan and his successes. Something truly powerful is happening in Turkish cinema, it is as if it has been for a time the focal point of a burst of creative energy. Auteurs, persistent in their ways to create a personal style and language, such as Reha Erdem and Semih Kaplanoğlu -- as well as many others -- are carrying the flag of high artistry in movies, which suffer from blockages of creativity in both Turkey and Europe.
There are reasons for that. First, Turkey, flourishing in transformation, breaking barriers and demolishing taboos, has many stories to tell. But also, those who want to tell those stories are different from earlier generations. Between the ‘60s and ‘80s there were fewer talents and they had to work hard against tough censorship, but almost all of them identified themselves with leftist, Marxist ideals to the degree that the results often became didactical, schematic. They paid less attention to style, form and camera than “how to enlighten the people.”
That generation has left the stage almost entirely, leaving space for a “liberated” generation, who has overcome the “filters of ideology.” They had the chance to watch as many movies as they liked, because thanks to the late Turgut Özal, censorship no longer existed as of the mid-’80s. It helped them to learn, be educated in movie theatres -- the best university to learn how to direct.
Ceylan, Erdem, Kaplanoğlu and others are of those. They not only merge the outpouring of energy Turkey’s society represents today, but also stand as an inspiration for many youngsters who will seek new paths in the digital age. Given, of course, that their freedom of speech is secure and the Internet does not fall under new forms of tutelage.