Also known, in English, as “Distant”, Uzak is a Turkish film from writer and director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates, Three Monkeys) with additional writing from Cemil Kevukcu. Released by Artificial Eye in the UK, this is a masterpiece of Turkish drama cinema, bringing elements of humour and life-pondering human realism to the screen in what is a wonderfully acted, and filmed, film.
Mahmut, played by Muzaffer Ozdemir (Nowhere Man), is a small-town guy done-well, a photographer who left his little village home to move to Istanbul and carve out a successful career in photography. His life begins to crumble, though, when his wife leaves him, and that soul-testing catastrophe is followed by his cousin, Yusuf, played by Emin Toprak (Clouds of May), coming to town and seeking habitation with Mahmut. Unemployed, and hoping to find work in Istanbul, Yusuf stays with Mahmut, and it becomes clear, during the course of the film, that Yusuf’s ways of living are encroaching upon Mahmut and what he finds to be acceptable etiquette in his home. The differences, and vast gap in any form of a relationship between the two, is made vividly obvious immediately, and it only grows as the two men’s clashing personalities cause problems to their existence. With Mahmut dealing with a career, a sick mother, and an inability to accept his marital misfortune, and Yusuf lonely and unable to find a job in a bit and strange city, we watch these two men contemplate their lives, struggle with one another, and discover answers to their numerous questions in the heart of Turkey’s capital.
Much of the film takes place in Mahmut’s flat, which in reality is the home of director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and the streets of Istanbul. There is a strong element of cinematography that is seen regularly throughout the film in which the camera rests, for extended periods of time, focusing on a hallway, or a street, or a character, like a fly on the wall, as we watch interactions slowly occur in a natural, understated and leisurely manner. I thought the use of characters in a blurred background with an inanimate clear foreground was visually appealing too, and the whole restrained and composed way in which the film moved along was fresh and absorbing. There isn’t a lack of humour here either, in between the scenes of watching life play-out with our characters, there are moments of neuroses with them, times when their tattered relationship is tested and Mahmut’s aggravation at his imposing guest take its toll on him. A specific scene in which Mahmut attempts to watch some titillating television but is interrupted by his cousin, is particularly amusing, and filmed in a way in which we feel like we know more than the characters themselves do, in terms of what is unfolding.
The performances, specifically from Ozdemir and Toprak, as Mahmut and Yusuf, are understated, and convincing. They provide a glimpse of life in a city where recession is causing problems for its population, and where family is not always the best company to have around. It’s a look at the testing nature of relationships, the difficulty in coming to terms with life’s meaner occurrences, and juggling a variety of time-consuming things all at once, and it works wonderfully, and feels very real, very under-polished and unlike other human-focused drama films I’ve seen.
The slow-moving nature and lack of specific intricate plot might not be for everyone. The positive aspects of the way the film was shot, for me, might be a negative aspect of the film for another viewer, it’s all subjective at the end of the day. I did though, feel like it was a very interesting and well-designed look into the window of the life of someone dealing with issues, in a city I’ve seldom seen represented in cinema. I enjoyed it thoroughly and the times that the film shoots scenes set in the snow looked really lovely too. It’s a hard one to recommend, because it depends on what you enjoy and whether this sort of film is your cup of tea, but I would always say to give these things a try, you might just discover something that you connect with on a deeper level that you expected.
Emin Toprak, who played Yusuf, passed away soon after the filming of Uzak was completed, in a car accident. This review is for him, and any fans of Toprak and the films he appeared in.