Dan Fainaru in Istanbul
Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Turkey. 2002. 106mins.
With a high profile after its selection in competition at Cannes later this month, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's new film promises to become a surefire hit on the festival circuit. Faithful to Ceylan's intransigently ascetic reputation, it has already collected all the significant films awards at home in Turkey, including best film, best director and the FIPRESCI prize at last month's Istanbul Film Festival. This is the kind of film-making many critics are addicted to - and as such can expect more prizes in future. Yet while arthouse circuits are likely to lap it up, it is unlikely that Distant will be able to break into mainstream audiences: in Turkey, it enjoyed only a very modest run.
A maverick auteur, who photographs and edits his own featues as well as write and produce them, Ceylan's distinct, sober, personal style, has already been heralded by his two earlier, award-winning efforts, Kasaba and Clouds Of May. His latest offering, a piece of infinite sadness and loneliness, marks his gradual transition from the countryside to the big city.
Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Topak) leaves his small town and comes to Istanbul, looking for eventual work on one of the harbour boats. Forced out of home by the economic crisis that left him jobless, he moves in with an older, distant relative, Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir) who has made a career as a photographer in the big city. The encounter between the taciturn, passive young man, who roams aimlessly about the wintry city and the obsessive bachelor, clinging to the routines of his solitary life, are fleshed out by a myriad of details. Not much is said between the two men, nor does much happen either; this is essentially a series of insignificant events that accumulate into a desolate portrait of alienation amid normal circumstances.
Mahmut's life consists of occasional bouts with women who leave surreptitiously before dawn and interminable sessions in front of his TV, apparently his only real companion. His main concerns are catching a piteous little mouse in the kitchen, ensuring no one smokes in his living room and spraying all his shoes and stacking them in their designated cupboard. Once in a while, he goes on assignments, but even there he just goes through the motions. An encounter with his ex-wife, about to emigrate to Canada, underlines his acute melancholia, which he accepts as his natural condition.
Yusuf, the country boy, is out of depth in a place that is alien to him: Ceylan uses the image of a fish out of water. While he seeks to establish relationships with other people, particularly women, he never actually does, instead hoping for some miraculous solution to his plight will come without his personal intervention.
Despite the urban shift, Ceylan's visual language remains the same: sparse dialogue, stunning camerawork (much of it in semi-darkness), very long shots and longer silences. He takes the viewpoint of an observer, loathe to infringe on his characters' privacy, choosing instead to let the audience use its imagination rather than forcefeed it information squeezed from loquacious soliloquies and extreme close-ups (of which there are practically none).
Working along similar lines, and at a similar pace, to film-makers such as Tarkovsky (mentioned in the film) and Antonioni, Ceylan displays a keen visual flair, both in his chiaroscuro compositions and use of depth of field, which allows him to make the most of every setting. The bleak, cold, wet winter landscape almost pentrates the pores of the film to impart a similar feeling to the audience. The actors show remarkable restraint, employing a minimalist approach that hints at, rather than displays, their emotions. One strong feature is the use of natural sound throughout, only broken by Mozart's Symphony Concertante (K364), which is employed a couple of times to underline the feature's blue mood.
Prod co: NBC Film
Prod/scr/cinematography: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Ed: Ayhan Ergursel, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Prod des: Ebru Ceylan
Sound: Ismail Karadas
Main cast: Muzaffer Ozdemir, Mehmet Emin Toprak, Zuhal Gencer Erkaya, Mazan Kirilmis, Feridun Koc, Fatma Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan