Sunday, 18 March 2012

Uzak (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2002)

Uzak (Distant) is a painterly slow-burning meditation on loneliness and depression whilst avoiding being depressing itself. A film that covers a large emotional ground while never hurrying, forcing, or manipulating its approach - something that writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan does best - his cinema unfolds, observes, it just happens. What we get is a truthful exploration of the human condition but not without some laughs along the way, life after all finds humour in the most absurd places.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a master filmmaker and one of the most exciting artists working in contemporary cinema. His background in photography is evident from the opening wide-angle shot of a small town with a man approaching slowly from the distance - this young man is Yusuf, he is traveling to the big city to find his cousin Mahmut. Yusuf needs a place to stay and he needs a job as his small town is hit hard by the recession.

Cousin Mahmut is a successful photographer living in Istanbul, he is 40years old going through a divorce and is severely depressed as well as alone. With the younger Yusuf arriving on his doorstep you'd think he'd be glad of some company, that Yusuf could help Mahmut live again. The tragedy of Uzak and what it sets out to explore is how so many of us refuse to admit or fail to see our misery and when we can see it we are so often incapable of helping ourself even when the answer stares back at us.

Mahmut is a proud man, a man who's life hasn't worked out quite how he's liked it to. He earns enough through his photography for a tile company but through a brief scene with some friends it is revealed that Mahmut was once more artistically inclined and full of passion, he is now complacent and disillusioned with life and with his art. Yusuf lives in the spare room and by day wonders the streets and docks looking for work, he is a sweet soul and a little dim but it appears he's not looking for work too hard, something Mahmut starts to resent. Through these scenes with Yusuf we learn of his loneliness also, he longs to work on a long distance ship and his cousin asks him if he would be able to cope with the distance and the isolation - both characters know these feeling all too well and live it day by day but do they ever confide or help each other? No they don't.

When Yusuf keeps failing to find employment and becomes slack with some of Mahmut's house rules, the two of them start to grate on one another. In one very funny scene Mahmut is watching an 'artsy' film (Tarkovsky's Stalker) with Yusuf in the room, it's clearly late and Yusuf says he's off to bed. Once Yusuf has left Mahmut changes to an adult channel but later panics and puts the film back on when Yusuf reappears. All along it was a ploy to bore Yusuf and to be left alone - what self destructive and pitiful creatures we can be.

Mahmut's apartment is full of literature, music and film yet all we see is him watching TV whenever he's off work - mainly game shows and pornography. Through this it's clear he's a shadow of his former self, a self we never knew. When we see Mahmut's interactions with his seperated wife we see they still have great affection for one another, the cause for separation never stated yet an abortion is brought up. She reveals she is moving to Canada with her new lover and with this it is clear that whatever joy Mahmut once had started and ended with this woman. There last goodbye over the phone is heartbreaking yet so under pronounced - it's raw and it feels real.

In the end with Yusuf gone, we see both men exactly where they were at the start - sleepwalking through life unable to wake up. Mahmut could have helped both of them if he could remember what it is like to feel but in the end is too far gone. Two men who share a painful loneliness and desperation for human warmth couldn't connect despite being both family and living in such close quarters. At the end of Yusuf's stay they have learned nothing about each other, did they ever want to? Did they even know how? Once Mahmut's ex-wife has gone and we end on a prolonged shot of him sitting, smoking, staring from a bench into the ocean we must ask - what has Mahmut learned if anything at all?

Uzak is an effortless drama that focusses on rather downbeat issues, despite how this review sounds it is a surprisingly enjoyable watch. The scenes of Yusuf bumbling around trying to help Mahmut on his photography assignments are endearing and sweet, Mahmut stepping on his own mouse trap as he scuttles quickly away after eaves dropping on Yusuf's phone conversation is comedy gold also. As expected from Ceylan's work it is also a stunning visual piece of work, the endless snowy landscapes of the locations only add more to this story of modern isolation. Ceylan's film is revealing and insightful in ways that only his films can be. Uzak is slow, full of life and its ugliness, a humane film that is also unforgettable.

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