User Rating: OK
Pros:Seeing Istanbul blanketed in snow and a ship askew
Cons:static interior shots, lack of character development or plot
The Bottom Line: I can't recommend investing the time to watch this, despite my fascination with Istanbul.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
Written and directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, "Uzak" (Distant, 2002) must be "character-driven," 'cause there certainly is no plot. With some use of the remote to speed it up, I got through the whole movie, primarily to see shots of Istanbul.
Istanbul is the Big City, a magnet for rural youth who want to escape -- and make some money. Photographer Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir) has made it -- or at least makes a living and has an apartment, though his "lifestyle" in the glamorous metropolis consists almost entirely of watching tv. And occasionally spying on his ex-wife, though this goes nowhere, not even to a "Stop stalking me" outburst.
Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Toprak), a distant and younger (but not IMHO young enough!) country cousin imposes himself on Mahmut while trying to get a job, preferably on a freighter. Yusuf quickly gets on Mahmut's nerves, not least in inhibiting Mahmut from watching softcore porn.
The viewer sees that Yusuf is trying hard seeking employment, though the small frustrations of having someone (however open-faced) underfoot when one has gotten used to living alone and having everything in a certain way is also understandable. The comedy is far more restrained than in, say, "The Odd Couple" or "Down By Law." Mahmut knows that his impatience is uncharitable -- but that does not make it go away.
Mahmut is an introspective artist -- and other than admiring the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, little of his interiority, aesthetic, and aspirations is on view. We don't know what (if anything! he looks sour throughout the movie) makes him laugh. We don't know what (he seems fairly zombified) makes him cry. We do know that Yusuf failing to flush the toilet irritates Mahmut, and that some time during Yusuf's tenure Mahmut decides to quit smoking (IMO, to provide a rationale for banning Yusuf from smoking in the apartment).
The refusal to move the camera, so that Ceylan's apartment is like a stage set viewed from a particular seat in the theater reminds me of my irritation at the much-praised films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Puppetmaster or Millennium MamboL, for instance).
The sound and visual transfer seem good. The DVD includes an extended (half hour) discourse from Ceylan (in English) about making the film (that's how I know that the apartment is his own; I also learned that he wanted a younger Yusuf, but after testing many younger men returned to Toprak, who he had used in previous films). The disc also includes Ceylan's first film, "Koza" (Cocoon, shot in 1995), a 17-minute black-and-white short that has a more identifiable Tarkovsky look than "Uzak" does, and music by Bach.
There is also a tedious, 42-minute "making of" featurette showing Ceylan set up the composition to film, then showing that part of the film. Had the sequences been interesting in the first place, seeing how they were set up might be interesting, but...
I have to say that Ceylan talking about what he wanted to do is more interesting than watching what he did. Maybe because of my recent Antonioni retrospective (and my patience for Tsai Ming-Liang films having been worn out), my need for a portrayal of urban alienation in which nothing happens is low right now. There is some humor in "Uzak," but less than, say, in Waiting for Godot (in which, famously, nothing happens -- twice).
BTW, "Uzak" won the Jury Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003, and Ozdemir and Toprak shared the prize as best actors. Toprak died in a traffic acciden the previous December. He was 28 (though he looked older to me in the movie).
© 2008, Stephen O. Murray
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