Distant

Distant ★★★½

There’s the cinema of agony and the cinema of ecstasy. The Turkish film Distant i.e. "Uzak," is the cinema of agony, but it is a quiet agony. And yeah, I’ve grown wary in recent years of art films on self-imposed martyrs, but if you’re looking for pieces on winter despair there are less interesting ways to pick your cinematic poison than by choosing this.

This is the story of the relatively distinguished but solitary Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir) and his visiting cousin Yousef (Mehmet Emin Toprak). Mahmet is a longtime photographer who lives off of only a few monthly assignments and stays relevant by attending an occasional social gathering with colleagues. His wife is divorcing him and moving with her new beau to Canada. To smite the pain, he has a sexual arrangement with some woman we know little about, but we assume there must be a financial arrangement involved.

Optimistic at the start only, Yousef came to town in belief he could get immediate work on a shipping liner, but he is rejected numerous times until he gets to the point where he just publicly strolls around to spend his days. He eventually reverts back to the type of juvenile teen behavior of following women he finds attractive and hoping he gets a shot at a meet cute. At home, Mahmut is a man that needs nobody; in one nighttime scene he bores his nephew until this unwanted relative scoots off to bed. Why? So Mahmut can put on his pornos. Several days into his visit, Mahumut is already devising ways to blame Yousef for things beyond his control to perhaps usher him out of his residence.

There is no sense of pride within either man, but with Yousef you at least believes he dreams of it. There are many long static shots in Distant, and without a doubt, this Nuri Bilge Ceylan film has one of those deliberate glacier slow methods that could make some impatient viewers cry TEDIUM! But there’s a number of unassuming great shots in the film, in no particular order: a wrecked ship that’s tilted on its side in the bleak of winter; Mahmut spying on his ex from afar as she drags her suitcases; Yousef in a two-shot of a pretty girl on a train who decides she would rather not sit next to him; a late shot of a middle-aged Mahmut who looks like he has the weathered and empty soul of a 90-year old. All these shots add up to a smoldering psychological puzzle. Indeed these images are so strong they have indelible to me for awhile (I saw this months ago and am only writing about it now).

These two men are family, yet estranged. They both fight loneliness in their own self-regressing ways. With about ten minutes left I knew the film was going to end soon, but was it going to conclude in an annihilating way or a muted understated way, I wondered? I had reasons to believe it could be either way. Ceylan chooses the right way to end it, I reflectively later thought.

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