Published Apr 01, 2004Turkish director Nuri-Bilge Ceylan's third feature film, the 2003 Cannes Grand Jury recipient of both the best picture award and a citation for its two lead male actors the younger of whom, Emin Toprak, died in a car accident the day after the film received the festival invite is an acute cinematic confrontation with the alienating permutations of living life in a big city, namely Istanbul.
An astute character study appropriately set in a melancholic winter, Distant is a point of view tale of middle-aged country-turned-city dweller Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir) and country-trying-to-turn-city boy Yusuf (Toprak), a youth seeking work in Istanbul to support his family. As distant cousins, Yusuf turns to Mahmut, now an established yet disillusioned commercial photographer, for temporary lodging and assistance in braving this new world. But as echoes of Yusuf's small town mentality and naiveté invade Mahmuts firmly entrenched solitary existence, he's quickly frazzled to the core by both the spatial intrusion and mounting personal problems with an ex-wife.
Ceylan makes it difficult to decide who's more sympathetic, as even a simple trip through the country on the way to a photo shoot, with Yousef acting as his assistant, reveals both Mahmut's unhealthy desire for respect and admiration, and Yusufs minimal work ethic. Meanwhile, the camera consistently balances the sad struggle of these two wandering souls with vast spaces that often reveal broad humor born from the awkward domestic interactions of this new daily coexistence, mining details like the repeated stench and according placement of Yusuf's shoes.
Ultimately it's the ridiculous and isolating underpinnings of such routines Mahmut's need to aimlessly surf the internet in silence and alone combined with Yusuf's inability to provide that fundamental requirement in any large city respectful space that dissolves any possibility of friendship. As time passes and Yusuf is unable to locate work, his voiceless, stunned stares at the city only meet with Mahmut's selfish silent reluctance to keep him around.
A confrontation between the two is all that the simmering tension requires, eliciting the stinging character indictments that finally move Yusuf to action and Mahmut towards resignation, however unsure and indecisive.
Toprak's untimely death adds an eerie sense of immediacy to Ceylan's masterfully quiet, powerfully melancholic tale of the ephemeral poignancy of missed communication. (Mongrel Media)