Saturday, May 22, 2004
-----------------------Distant ("Uzak", Nuri Bilge Ceylan, DVD, 2003): 9/10
This film is as deadly serious as great comedies get. A cousin from a rural village in Turkey visits his cosmopolitan cousin in Istanbul. As far as the plot is concerned, this is all. The city-dweller, Mahmut, is a relatively affluent disillusioned bohemian who is an advertising photographer by trade (making his money by taking pictures of ceramic tiles). The man's occupation is crucial here. Ceylan could have easily have made him out to be an employee of the technology sector but a vital element would have missed if he had done so. It is often said that there is a biased toward engineering and science disciplines because of their inherent "usefulness". In Western countries though, the artist's passion is respected. After all, he is not expected to convince society of his "practical use" (only of his entertainment, which is bad enough). In Turkey, artists are pressured to adhere to a kind of professionalism that serves society in a more direct way. In other places it is done for financial gain, in Turkey it is also done to be respected. It comes as no surprise then, that Ceylan himself started off as an electric engineer major who later found his cinematic calling. Thus, we see Mahmut attempting to portray his engagement in artistic endevours even though it is apparent that he has abandoned these motivations long ago. And it is apparent not least in a scene in which Mahmut is watching a constant shot of a man on a train, a film that drives his cousin out of the living room through sheer boredom. Once his cousin leaves, Yusuf changes the tape with a porno. (the in-joke, apparently, is that one can do the same thing with this feature).
Throughout the film, Yusuf slowly unravels as he forced to live with his cousin's (Yusuf) brutish mannerisms. He ends up having to spray Mahmut's shoes with air freshner and finds himself turning off the lights after him. The bastard doesn't even flush the toliet. Yet it is not Yusuf's piggishness that we learn of, but Mahmut's own. He is a lonely individual who refuses to acknowledge what little comfort he gains from the company. At one point, we see him waking up from a nightmare in which the lamp next to the TV crashes to the floor in slow motion. This is not intended as a symbolic revelation (thankfully). It is a very literal one. There is nothing else left for his subconscious to extract from his life experiences.
The characters, when apart, spend there time stalking strangers or abandoned loved ones at various landmarks in Istanbul. This is either underexplored or overexplored in the film, although you do get the scenery. ("The Stalker", incidentally, is the name of the film Yusuf switches for the porno). It is one of the film's few weaknesses. The film manages, however, to prepare you for The Reckoning.