Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Distant (Uzak) A Film by Nuri Bilge Ceylan (2002)

Another exciting director has sprung from the festival circuit producing simplistic yet profound films on a low budget: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. With a number of awards under its belt, Distant, Ceylan's third and most widely distributed film, transports the viewer into a wintry Istanbul where its burnt out protagonist Mahmut lives. Having been left by his wife, he clings to his habitual small apartment life where he continues to work on his craft of photography, however distant it's becoming. His relative Yusuf spontaneously arrives to stay at his place, claiming to be in search of a job. Yusuf recently lost his working at a local factory because it closed down.

Instantly, there is a broad contrast between the two men; country life vs. city life, and gradually more personality differences make themselves known. Yusuf is unaware at first of the challenges that the big city presents, and seems to be in search of a female companion more so than a job. He also scoffs at the Tarkovsky film that Mahmut shows him only to be entranced by the comedy and action films that are elsewhere on TV (in a scene containing an ingenious statement on instant gratification vs. artistic consumption). In this sense, Yusuf is a sensualist whereas Mahmut is a colder-hearted intellectual. Slowly but surely, the film does just what the title states; it further distances its two main characters to the point of emotional isolation.

Ceylan handles this situation with fascinatingly articulate poetic realism. He puts us into the world of the characters as if it were our own, resulting in extended observant camera takes. Working as the director, cinematographer, writer and producer, nearly all of the fine tuning of Distant can be attributed to Ceylan. He displays his natural eye for photography, his understanding of the nuances of mundane living, and his touch for deadpan comedy that withers away into full-blown emotional explosiveness. The bleak Turkish landscape shown on the screen has never, to my knowledge, been photographed with such elegiac purpose. The snowy harbor setting is transfixing and evocative, and the interiors are deliberately humdrum. The growing tension of the story swells to an intentionally decrescendo yet contemplative finale. With Distant, Nuri Bilge Ceylan solidified his position as a world-class filmmaker in the realm of Abbas Kiarostami or Cristian Mungiu. I'm looking forward to his recent Cannes contribution, Three Monkeys.
(Also check out the imaginative Koza, Ceylan's debut short film. It's on the same disc as Distant.)

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