Uzak (Distant)

Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2002. Starring: Muzaffer Özdemir, Emin Toprak. Foreign/Asian Cinema.
Uzak (Distant)

Everyone’s paying homage to Tarkovsky nowadays, it seems, albeit often losing something in the translation. Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan is among the few directors (along with Mauritanian Abderrahmane Sissako, Malian Souleymane Cissé and Iranian Abbas Kiarostami) who thankfully picks up not only on Tarkovsky’s aesthetic, but also his humanism and subtle humor.

Ceylan makes no attempts to hide his most obvious cinematic inspiration; using Bach in a library scene, referring to the Soviet director in a speech among artists, and in one scene even using one of the master’s films to bore his unsophisticated house guest into going to bed so that his host can watch porn in peace. In the special features, Ceylan also professes a debt, not surprisingly, to Anton Chekov and Yasujirō Ozu. A short film included on the DVD, Koza, is even more overt in its aspirations to reflect Tarkovsky.

The story of Uzak concerns a commercial photographer, Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir ), whose artistic ideals have been put aside in favor of economic concerns and he now takes photos of tiles for a paycheck. A young man from his hometown, Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Toprak) – almost perpetually clad in a uniform of leather jacket, track pants and Cosby sweater – has moved to Istanbul to stay with his acquaintance whilst he looks for work, albeit without much effort. Mahmut has almost systematically pushed everyone out of his life and now lives a life of isolation and routine. The prolonged intrusion of the rustic and somewhat slovenly Mahmut causes inevitable but well-depicted tensions between the two.

Ceylan does several interesting things as a director and cinematographer, crafting a beautiful but bleak story that is slow and measured, but never sadistically so. He does interesting things with perspective, subtly transfers our point-of-view from the hapless Yusuf to the crotchety and lonely Mahmut. And whereas the filmmaker admits, as already mentioned, to worshiping at the altar of Ozu and Tarkovsky, the beautifully framed, almost dialogue-less scenes in which the most banal activities are frequently elevated to hysterical proportions reminded me of the witty style of another cinematic genius and less obvious touchstone, Jacques Tati.

Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Feb 23, 2010 2:32pm
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