Nuri Bile Ceylan’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” which opened Stateside in January and hit UK screens more recently, has been bringing critics to their knees since Cannes last year, but has has more of a slow-creep effect on me.
I saw it last May in unideal circumstances: the Cannes programmers, in their wisdom, had decided to press-screen this languorous 160-minute policier in a late-evening slot at the very tail-end of the festival. I stayed awake but not exactly absorbent: I was left with admiring impressions of the film’s daring narrative style and staggering night-time cinematography, but almost immediately afterwards, was unable to recall a single thing that happened in it.
Returning to it recently, however, proved both rewarding and reassuring: there is something oddly evanescent about the way it reveals its mysteries, but one suspects that may be Ceylan’s intent in a kind of long-night’s-journey-into-day story that stretches and loops time in such a way that all incidents become less connectable the more we learn about them.
And my tired eyes weren’t deceiving me about that astonishing lensing: if only foreign-language cinema didn’t have second-class citizen status in the awards race, Gokhan Miryaki would be as mandatory a Best Cinematography nominee as Emmanuel Lubezki was last year. (The Turkish submitted it last year for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but it wasn’t among the few saved for consideration by the Academy’s executive committee.) “Anatolia” isn’t as rich or as moving as 2002’s less conceptual “Uzak,” still Ceylan’s personal best, but it clearly rewards revisits.
All of which is to say that Ceylan was already on my mind, and happily so, when the news came through today that he’s due to be honored once more at the Cannes Film Festival — outside the Competition fray this time, and for his career as a whole. The director’s mantel is already generously decorated with Cannes gold: “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” shared the runner-up Grand Prix last year, the same award taken by “Uzak,” while “Three Monkeys” earned him the Best Director prize in 2008.
This time, he’ll receive the Golden Coach (or, more elegantly, the Carrosse d’Or) in the Directors’ Fortnight strand of the festival, an award given to a director whose work exhibits “courage and independent-mindedness.” Previous winners include Clint Eastwood, David Cronenberg and last year’s embattled recipient, Jafar Panahi. This marks the second year in a row a Middle Eastern director has taken the award; coincidentally or otherwise, it’s indicative of how that territory’s cinematic creativity is flourishing, often against sizeable circumstantial odds.
Ceylan will receive the award after delivering a director’s master class on the opening day of the Fortnight (and second day of the festival overall), May 17. I find myself stunned by how rapidly Cannes is creeping up on us — I don’t feel at all ready.
For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.
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