Andrew Collins: when boring is the new interesting

Sometimes you have to see a film twice...


As you’ll know if you’ve read my recent post on The Hunger Games, I’m not afraid to go against the critical consensus, even if it leaves me out on a limb. However, over the Easter weekend, I went to the critically acclaimed Turkish film Once upon a Time in Anatolia, excited by what I’d read about it, and buoyed by the fact that I loved one of its writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s previous films, Uzak.


First, some context. Although I saw the film in the early afternoon at a very comfortable local arthouse cinema – a place that makes me feel relaxed and comfortable just by walking through its doors – I’d perhaps overenthusiastically paid to see two films virtually back-to-back.

So, I’d just seen the captivating French-Finnish comedy drama Le Havre, had a quick hot chocolate in the bar, and gone back in to see Once upon a Time in Anatolia. It is not a comedy. It is, in fact, a dark police procedural – two-and-a-half hours long, and languidly paced. Also, it takes place over one night and the following morning, and the first hour takes place in darkness.

The action – or inaction – is lit by headlights of police vehicles, as a consignment of various officials attempt to locate a buried body in the steppes of rural Anatolia, and it’s all very beautiful to look at it. It’s also a strain on the eyes. This, I think, coupled with a natural tiredness, led me to enter a soporific state. Hey, it’s a warm cinema. It’s dark. I was comfy. An occupational hazard.

I didn’t actually doze, but I drifted in and out of sleep, missing seconds at a time, not even minutes. I perked up halfway through, but by the end of 158 minutes, I felt that the film had been…boring. A mixture of mundane chat between the men, and almost forensic detail about procedure, coupled with my sleepy state, was a toxic combination.

Confused about my negative reaction, I reread various reviews, features and interviews with Ceylan. Why the disconnect between my experience and that of other critics? The recurring description “Chekhovian” didn’t help, as I have little knowledge of Chekhov.

But it nagged at me. And, four days later, I went back to see the film again. I was, this time, alert and ready for it. 

I sat, transfixed, through the same 158 minutes and loved Once upon a Time in Anatolia. It all fell into place. Not only was the tedium of the police work suddenly profound and meaningful, I discovered threads and themes that I’d missed previously, I caught the subtle humour in the nuanced writing, and even though I still didn’t get the Chekhov nods, I found the whole thing mesmerising and dramatic and…interesting.


Sometimes you really do have to see a film twice. And boring can become interesting.