Andrew Collins: when boring is the new interesting

Sometimes you have to see a film twice...

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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.

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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.

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