Directed by  Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Turkey. 2002.

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From the Vancouver International Film Festival...

Today's large urban centers consist not only of the tourist attractions, museums, and up-scale shops, but also include the homeless living in cardboard tents underneath bridges, and the thousands of isolated apartment dwellers who rarely venture out, content to live an anonymous existence. Nuri Bilge Ceylan's film Distant, winner of the Grand Prix FIPRESCI for Best Film of the Year and the runner-up Grand Jury prizewinner at the recent Cannes Film Festival, is an unsparing look at two such people, men who drift through life without making connection. 

Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir) is a divorced photographer who works for a Ceramic Tile company in Istanbul, Turkey. He lives alone and doesn't socialize, preferring to spend his nights watching old movies, fashion shows, and pornography on television rather than seeking out the attractions of his cosmopolitan surroundings. Mahmut's only contact is with one woman, a prostitute, but there is little passion or joy in their encounters. His ex-wife (Zuhal Gencer Erkaya) has remarried and it is clear that he feels a deep sense of loss, especially when she announces that she and her new husband will soon relocate to Canada. Mahmut's daily routines are disrupted when a cousin, Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Toprak, who died tragically in a car accident just before the Cannes festival began), an unemployed villager, comes to stay with him in the city while looking for work aboard a ship. At first Mahmut is caring but he soon grows impatient with his sometimes slow-witted relative and berates him for his sloppy habits. 

Yusuf goes through the motions of looking for work. He pretends that he is waiting for answers to his job applications while he hangs out in bars and wanders the streets alone following attractive women, but his attempts to connect with the opposite sex are fruitless. Though they share the same apartment, the two men rarely speak and a feeling of lethargy pervades the film. In a revealing segment, while driving in Anatolia on a photographic tour, Mahmut is moved by an idyllic scene but his ennui is so pervasive that he cannot bring himself to stop and take a picture. Ceylan uses little music, minimal dialogue, and not much action. He simply records the pain etched on the faces of the characters alongside images suggesting the indifference of nature: the Bosphorus pounding against the quay, the dogs barking in the street, the sound of bells, the forbidding Istanbul winter, and the cries of children. 

With his use of meditative silences, long shots, and a static camera, Ceylan has been compared to Tarkovsky, Kiarostami, and Tsai Ming-liang. His style is just as distinctive and equally demanding, but I had mixed feelings about the film. Distant uniquely captures the sadness of contemporary life without intimacy but the film's lack of character development and the repetition of strategies devoted to avoiding communication eventually became tedious and left me uninvolved. 

Howard Schumann
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