Distant ★★★★½

”Everywhere ends up being the same place.”

Uzak, director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s first major critical success, includes thematic elements which make it immensely appealing to the Turkish viewer but it also addresses universal themes – the painful “virtue” of loneliness and the never-ending melancholy of a broken up relationship – which take it above a simple exotic movie and turn in it into something that can easily – well, not that easily of course – draw the attention of a wider global audience.

Ceylan’s filmmaking method is such that it often needs a fully composed and generously patient viewer who can tolerate the static mise-en-scenes of the film and its sequences of raw and unpolished emotions, that is how the Turkish director manages to capture the mood and atmosphere of the specific time and place he is portraying. To depict the desolated and dismal life of his characters he often keeps a frustrating distance between his camera and his characters and - except for moments when he wants to highlight that impatient soul that desperately tries to find a way out and escape the boundaries imposed by norms of the society and the past regrets and mistakes - rarely uses close-ups. To further emphasize the wretched nature of his characters’ lives he uses painstakingly time consuming long takes which almost always last longer than they should as if he wants to present us with the fact that the pain and agony these characters are going through is not going to come to an end easily.

Uzak is a film of contrasts and the story of two men from two different worlds who share the same place for some time gives the director the opportunity to underline some of these antagonistic features which run deeply in human societies. While Yusuf comes from a pretty much traditional background, spends most of his free time in old-fashioned coffeehouses chatting with men like himself and the greatest “sin” he commits is watching “sexy” models on telly the other man spends his free time in modern coffee shops listening to jazz music drinking hot coffee and seeking pleasure from porn and prostitutes. For Yusuf everything seems so simple, he comes to town with the dream of easily finding a job and making some money, even his perception of the concept of love and romance is so instinctive - as opposed to “civilized” – that in the end he comes off as a pervert who can’t control his desires.

But Mahmut is a more complex beast. He has gone through what Yusuf is going through now (perhaps one reason that he can’t tolerate Yusuf is that he is seeing his younger self in the poor man) and the experience of living in the big city has washed away his rural naivete. He is more cynic, more pragmatic and less poetic. There doesn't seem to be a goal in his life after what has happened between he and his former wife. The film never tells us about the details of his past relationship but we know enough: once you put someone in your heart you won’t be able to forget them. You may go separate ways but that affection will never die. And that’s what Mahmut is struggling with throughout the whole film. His heart is broken and nothing can fix it. Some people can’t let go of things easily and Mahmut is one of those people.

Uzak, despite being an emotionally and artistically striking achievement, is not a film you can recommend to everybody. It is a demanding and challenging experience, both psychologically and physiologically, but like any other great piece of art it is filled with wonderfully put together moments that make you feel lighter and that’s a huge achievement for Mr. Ceylan.