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I wasn't planning to write about the Turkish film "Distant", which is now playing in NYC, but words in today's NY Times review of a new Icelandic film got me thinking:
"The director, Dagur Kari,
making his feature film debut, has a clean, understated style. Like certain
Since this is exactly the way that "Distant" is constructed, it might be useful to look at it as an expression of a style that is rapidly consolidating itself internationally. I can think of no term like 'nouvelle vague' that describes it exactly or any manifesto that announces it like Dogme '95, but it certainly appears to follow its own austere rules. You can see many elements of this style in Iranian film as well, especially in the works of Kiarostami.
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, "Distant" ("Uzak")
is a minimalist tale of two cousins in
This is not the first film by Ceylan that explores cultural and class alienation between men such as these. In his 1999 "Clouds of May" that I saw in the New Directors/New Films series at Lincoln Center, the director featured a character named Muzaffer (also played by Muzaffer Ozdemir), who is in the countryside making a film about village life that stars his relatives. His cousin (also played by real-life cousin M. Emin Toprak) is an unemployed factory worker whom Muzaffer hires to lug around cameras and other equipment and who dreams that movie-making can be an escape from the tedium and economic insecurity of the countryside. Meanwhile Muzaffer has little interest in the lives of his relatives beyond what is useful for his film.
In one scene his father Emin (M. Emin Ceylan, the director's real-life father) goes on at length about the possible loss of a grove of trees he has nurtured since youth. (Local officials plan to chop them down in the name of a typically Kemalist "modernization" project). While his father pours out his fears, Muzaffer can only fret about the amount of film they're using.
If anything, the Muzaffer
character, who we assume must be a stand-in for Ceylan
himself, becomes even more self-involved and remote in "Distant".
After having lost his wife who is about to move to
Hiring his cousin Yusuf as an assistant, they go out into the Anatolian countryside to do some art photography. After stumbling across a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, Mahmut decides not to even set up the camera since it is a "waste of fucking time", thereby vindicating his statement to the intelligentsia.
If Mahmut's problems are artistic
and existential in nature, Yusuf's are mundanely
economic. He dreams of becoming part of the crew on an ocean liner and prowls
When the two men interact with each other in the apartment,
it is a mixture of "The Odd Couple" and Ingmar
Bergman's "Winter Light". Whether a toilet is flushed or not becomes
invested with a kind of Bergmanesque angst. Since the
entire film is set in some of
The real question, however, is whether or not this approach to film-making can offer much more than a kind of highly aesthetic existential drama in which not only communication is at a minimum; there is no catharsis in a meaningful dramatic sense. Ultimately, films are drama. Going back to Greek tragedy, a character is forced to confront some painful series of events that will leave him or her with greater wisdom. In the modern age, there have been constant efforts to either reject or supersede this approach with mixed results.
Finally, it might be said that "Distant" is
ultimately a political film even though it contains not a single political
discussion. The failure of artists to be engaged with their work and the
failure of working people to find a job is not a failure of individual human
beings. It is a failure of society and an economic system. In the difficult
In an interview with the International Herald Tribune on
When you stop and think about it, this is not just a problem