Distant (Uzak)

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Turkey| 2003. Subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 110 mins.

Distant (Uzak) was one of the few great films shown in the main competition section of the last Cannes Film Festival, where it was duly rewarded with two major prizes. It’s the third feature by the Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan, a true independent who writes, produces, directs and photographs his own movies and uses mainly non-professional actors, many of them relatives or friends. His films are deeply personal, but they’re anything but self-indulgent and their thematic concerns take on a universal resonance. Crucially, Ceylan’s minimalist style is so precise and visually beautiful that it places him amongst the top flight of contemporary European filmmakers.
Distant opens with a strikingly composed shot of a snowbound landscape, with the tiny figure of a man leaving his village. The man is Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Toprak), who travels to Istanbul in search of work. He stays with his cousin Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir), a professional photographer who has recently divorced and lives alone in a studio flat. Much of the film is taken up with beautifully observed scenes depicting the uneasy relationship between the two men. To the sophisticated and orderly Mahmut, Yusuf is an undisciplined slob who disrupts his domestic routine. In truth, both men are equally isolated and unfulfilled. Mahmut still hankers after his ex-wife, who plans to emigrate to Canada with a new husband. Country boy Yusuf feels totally adrift in the city and seems unlikely to find either a job or a girlfriend. Ceylan observes the plight of his protagonists with great tenderness and a beautifully understated sense of humour. He has a rare gift for giving visual expression to the frustrations and bottled-up emotions of city dwellers and makes excellent use of his wintry Istanbul locations. For a film about loneliness, loss and alienation, Distant is a remarkably uplifting cinematic experience.

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