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DISTANT (UZAK) (director/writer/editor: Nuri Bilge Ceylan; cinematographer: Nuri Bilge Ceylan; editor: Ayhan Ergursel; cast: Muzaffer Özdemir (Mahmut), Mehmet Emin Toprak (Yusuf), Zuhal Gencer Erkaya (Nazan), Nazan Kirilmis (Lover), Feridun Koc (Kamil, Janitor), Fatma Ceylan (The Mother), Ebru Ceylan (The Young Girl); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nuri Bilge Ceylan; New Yorker Films; 2002-Turkey-in Turkish with English subtitles)
A startlingly quiet film that is buoyed by a droll humor, splendid visuals and bittersweet reflections into the human condition.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s (“Clouds of May”) third feature is a minimalist, elliptical narrative that marvelously supports this remarkably subtle character study of a middle-aged man coming to grips with his life disappointments but is unable to come out of his doldrums and bridge his deepening emotional gap for others.

Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir) came without a cent from a small village to Istanbul and without help achieved relative success as a commercial photographer. He’s reeling from his recent divorce to Nazan, whom he still loves and misses greatly but who is leaving shortly with her new husband to live in Canada. Mahmut once had artistic ideals and dreamed of being another Tarkovsky, but has settled for economic security and being practical–which means sitting in his comfortable apartment (actually the director’s own pad) and spending his leisure hours watching vacuous TV programs on a big-screen. He leads a solitary, obsessive and carefully orchestrated life, one in which he can’t escape from his lingering unhappiness and inability to communicate with others. His long haunting looks out at space or at individuals he has little to say to, indicate how he seems to be fixated at looking for something that is not there.

At this most inopportune time, when Mahmut doesn’t even answer calls from his ailing mother, arrives his distant cousin, from his hometown village, Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Toprak). The unwelcome guest has left home because the recession caused a shutdown of the local factory and he now plans on escaping the village for good by finding any job on a ship, but needs a place to stay until he finds work.

The beauty of the film is that it takes this simple premise and draws from it a riveting psychological tale about the uneasy nuanced relationship that develops between the two lonely men who can never understand each other’s frustrations they are experiencing and are unable because of class differences to share their experiences. In the wintry setting of the big city, Yusuf walks the streets eyeballing young women but cannot get up enough nerve to approach them; while Mahmut throws himself completely into his work and has repressed his desires. When Yusuf stays on for longer than expected and can’t find work because the recession has also hit the city and he doesn’t seem to be trying as hard as he should to find work, Mahmut’s temper flares from resentment and he picks unreasonable arguments with his guest for breaking the house rules over smoking, poor hygienic habits and messing up the apartment. The most dramatic event centers around a mouse hanging around the kitchen that is finally trapped in one of those torturous sticky paper traps and is squealing as it fights for its life.

It’s a startlingly quiet film that is buoyed by a droll humor, splendid visuals and bittersweet reflections into the human condition. It’s, also, an emotionally powerful film by a major artist who has arrived on the international scene.

“Distant” was the winner of the Grand Prix and two Best Actor Awards at the Cannes Film Festival. The actor playing Yusuf is the director’s real-life cousin, and the actor playing Mahmut is a friend and not a professional actor.

REVIEWED ON 1/19/2005 GRADE: A +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”