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Distant (Uzak) | Review

Homemade Melancholic Soup

Turkish film is a celebration of isolation and of sadness.

This critically acclaimed 2003 Cannes winner will make accidental, unaware mainstream audiences cringe but true cinephiles will think this is perhaps the second coming of Michelangelo Antonioni. Aware of the space of the urban landscape and conscious about the impenetrable male temperament, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s third film demonstrates the director’s careful treatment of the full filmic text; the result is a film that is minimalist in dialogue, narrative and aesthetics.

Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Toprak) is the unwanted guest who comes to the city hoping for a job and is forced to live in someone else’s home, that someone else is cousin Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir) a photographer by profession and a loner by nature. Call it a clash of cultures; at first it would seem that both are exact opposites of one another. The apartment acts as a focal point, one that is cold for its lack of emotion and in it the older cousin’s lack of appreciation for his naïve cousin from the countryside is demonstrated by how he is treated less like a family member and more like a stranger. In reality, there very much the same, they share similar ineptitudes towards women, Mahmut let’s his true love fly out of his life while Yusuf has extreme difficulty in approaching the opposite sex. What they do share is this sense of loneliness, generally, in a standard film the feeling of would unite the two characters, unlike Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise neither one of them seems apt in creating an emotional bound.

The film’s title serves especially well in describing how the viewer might initially feel versus the text. Distant is about how isolated a person can become versus one’s surroundings of urbanized space and how removed one can while in the company of others. With masculinity in the way, Ceylan explores the trapped isolating nature of a city and parallels this with a tale about two cousins forced to live together, this creates a sort of tension which is thankfully explored in the film’s second half the film literally peels back the layers to reveal several fissures. The film’s final long take of a man smoking a “sailor’s” cigarette and the prior sequence showing a true love depart for good shows the void in this man’s life and magnifies how he might have figured out things a little too late.

With less dialogue than your average sixty-second television commercial, Ceylan keeps his film at a strict minimum; the anemic dialogue makes every conversation feel like a break in thick ice and the use of the long take subtlety details the tension and the distance between the two protagonists. The beautiful panoramic shots adds a colorless, almost odorless murky palette that emphasizes the solitude of the space while the shipyard emptiness and the state of the economy reminds of ( Mondays in the Sun).

Written, directed and photographed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Distant is benefited tremendously by the director’s uncomplicated skillful approach resulting in a story that builds in emotion through the flaws in humanity. This is a straight story, Istanbul style.

Viewed in original Turkish language with English Subtitles

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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