Starring: Zuhal Gencer Erkaya, Muzaffer Özdemir, Fatma Ceylan, M. Emin Toprak Screenwriter: Nuri Bilge Ceylan Original Title: Uzak Running Time: 1:50 Country: Turkey Year: 2003 Official Site: Distant
Down and out in Istanbul. Distant, the third film by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who in addition wrote the script and was in charge of editing, draws a bitter portrait of a country struck by crisis. Through two existences without a possible future, the director tells a universal history where loneliness, disillusion and despair mix.
The reel amplifies the sound of shoes on snow. A man advances towards the foreground. From fields to the road, a village to the city, unemployment to the hope of getting a job. Slowly, the man advances on the white expanse.
From the first sequence, what is striking about Ceylan's filming is time and discretion. This director takes care to disappear in order for his camera to view the faces and the movements of his characters. He takes the time to wait for the emotion that will emerge from the corner of a wrinkle on the face, from an absent glance inhabited by interior demons. He patiently lurks in a corridor, until the moment when the accident occurs: the simple appearance of a protagonist in the camera's shot. An effective tactic, since the comedy of one situation, like the tragedy of another, rewards the audience's patience each time that he goes to the trouble to wait. Contrary to the characters, who spy on their fellow man only to find nothingness and sadness. And when the distress is read on the faces, when it is delivered very naked to the eyes, then the director caresses it with his camera. Without separating himself from a certain decency, from a humble and sincere tenderness for these lost beings. Alone in a cosmopolitan city where happiness will be always reserved for the others, alone among thousands, such are the two main characters of Distant.
Mahmut works as photographer, primarily for a tile factory. His days are spread out with the tedious rhythm of paper filing, amorphous channel surfing and meetings with prostitutes, in the middle of clichés that testify to a more artistic past. Without passion or joy, just with a hardly assumed fate. His mother suffers from a disease, his ex-wife emigrates to Canada in a few days with her new man. One day Yusuf, a member of his family who's left the village to try his luck in Istanbul in the merchant navy, arrives at his home. Thus begins a cohabitation where communication is reduced to the bare minimum. Yusuf's mother, penniless, cannot pay the dentist to cure her of a toothache, the office of port recruiting closes its doors to him, and Mahmut does not encourage him to stay at his place too long. Then he feigns waiting for answers from potential employers, hangs out in the streets, in the bars, not by vice, just by boredom and spite, and all his attempts to make some acquaintances (the opposite sex, if possible) fall through. The two broken beings of Distant are not very talkative. Because fatigue and lassitude took over their pugnacity. Without existence in a society in crisis, Yusuf disappears from the last place where he could have existed at least in the eyes of his silent relative, as he came: without announcing himself, without warning.
As for Mahmut, his photographer's look expresses all the lassitude that accumulates in his life. Witness the startling scene where, during a tour in Anatolia, he refuses to stop to take a cliché photo where all the elements, from the scenery to the light, would have contributed to make a work of art. The most beautiful moments of film shows him seated on a bench, in front of the Bosphorus raging from winter. In front of so much of resignation, of will to face the pain without saying a word, Ceylan shows a violent, indifferent nature without pity: the waves striking the quay. Mahmut's eyes remain dry. The only trace of his cousin's passing through: a package of cigarettes. A fleeting trace, which will leave in ashes with the last puff.