When it’s on: Thursday, 19 April 2012 (1.20 am, Friday)
Shots of men standing, or sitting, alone, or together, smoking or not, staring into some uncommunicative distance, looking for… what? Contemplating the past? Guessing at an unguessable future? Sharing few words.
Welcome to the wintry Istanbul setting of Distant, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2002 film that was a darling of Sight and Sound and it was their gushing review (it’s a while since I last read it, but these used to be incredibly rare) that made me check it out. Whilst not a big mistake, Uzak took some getting used to, those long, lingering shots of almost nothing at all, the rare prize that was a glimpse of the personalities hidden beneath the inscrutable features of Mahmut and his young cousin Yusuf, the barely expressed pain teased at in the scenes of either character alone and smoking.
The slim plot involves Yusuf arriving in Istanbul after losing his job at the factory in his home town. He’s here to stay with Mahmut, who moved to the city years ago and set himself up as a successful photographer. Yusuf’s idea is to work on the ships, but it’s a vaguely considered plan. Soon enough, it becomes clear that step one was lodging with Mahmut, and that was about it. In the meantime, Mahmut is a divorced man. His ex-wife is about to move to Canada with her new husband, something he can hardly bear. He finds some solace in his tumbles with another woman, but it’s sad sex in an unfulfilled relationship.
The two men gradually wind each other up. Mahmut hates Yusuf’s slovenly ways. The younger man comes with the listlessness of being unemployed. He finds out the ships aren’t hiring and that even when work is available, it pays badly. In one beautifully shot scene, on his way to the shipyard Yusuf runs past a badly listing freighter, a sign that all is far from well in both his job planning and his life in general. Yusuf needs work to support his family, but there’s none to be had. He can’t bring himself to talk to women he finds attractive, so he waits and watches before they move away or walk off with another man.
It’s a sad film, filled with little tragedies that are hinted at yet never made clear. I guess it’s a comment on men, men whose last instinct would be to talk about their problems. Mahmut and Yusuf are certainly an odd couple. Over time, they may even end up being good for each other, but the chance of reaching that point will never be reached. They’re too distant.