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Uzak (Distant)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan


Josie Appleton

Two men share a flat in Istanbul for a week. Each is low in his own way: one is a disillusioned photographer who has lost his wife to another man; his guest is an unemployed workman from a provincial town. Yet both would rather die than admit it.

Aside from a couple of outbursts, there is virtually no self-expression. The men watch each other, pace around each other, while pretending to be absorbed in what they are doing. The photographer pretends to be working on a picture when his guest pads past his door, then listens acutely to the retreating footsteps. They seek distractions in order to avoid contact. In one scene, the photographer marshals TV control and internet as a barrier against the workman, flicking the channels and playing with the mouse so he doesn’t have to look at the man standing front of him. They begin to grate against one another, with the guest’s untidiness and provincial habits becoming the focus of friction.

The director’s camera expresses what the characters cannot. By focusing on single shots and sounds, the film captures the inner state and subjective experience of the two men.

The title, Distant, is about the sense of numb unreality that comes with lacking a purpose in life. Because the men have no drive, no vocation, both their own lives and the lives of others confront them as strange, phantom objects. The opening two shots capture this perfectly. The first shows the workman walking up towards a road from a rural town. The frame remains dead still, though the workman disappears and then reappears behind a hillock, and then passes right in front of the camera. He is so close, you can hear his panting, see his foggy breath, but the camera remains impassive, indifferent to its subject’s presence. In the second shot, we see the photographer in a bedroom, a red-robed woman behind him. He walks over to her and takes her in his arms, but the focus doesn’t shift, so the two are hopelessly blurry. The camera’s distance from its subjects mirrors their own sense of estrangement.

Sounds too are strange. The director seems to pick out one at a time – a hooting car, a clanking, scratching, scraping. These are dissonant, and it is often difficult to work out exactly where they are coming from. For the alienated man, noise seems to impact upon him, grate against him. It’s not something he can source; he can’t see it as meaningful, or susceptible to his own intervention. It’s just scratch, scratch.

And often it is the objects around people that have to do the talking. Shots of fish flapping in a pan, or a mouse struggling on sticky tape convey something of the turmoil that is going on behind the men’s closed glances. When the photographer returns home to discover that the workman has gone, his expression doesn’t change – he just looks at the keys hanging on the hook, and the keys, swinging slightly, seem to become highly resonant.

The characters themselves rely on objects for their expression. In one scene, the photographer lashes out at his guest, accusing him of being a lazy good-for-nothing. The workman’s glance is furious, but doesn’t reply – instead, he fires the tacky toy commando that had sparked the argument, its bursts of gunfire and manic wriggling standing in for his fury. And at the end, there is a reconciliation of sorts through a packet of cigarettes. The photographer had snubbed the rough brand of cigarettes smoked by the workman - but he smoked one from the packet that he left behind by accident in his room. ‘Sorry’ could only be said through a proxy, not face to face.

In every frame of this film, these mute men's lives are portrayed with extraordinary vividness.

 
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