Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Distant Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2002

What is it like to be truly alone? I don't think that being alone - being truly alone - has anything to do with proximity; you could be in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from civilization, without being alone. Conversely, you could be in a crowd of thousands and feel completely isolated. Distant examines this idea of solitude - both self-imposed and otherwise.

Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir) is a photographer, hermitic in nature. A distant cousin, Yusuf (Emin Toprak), comes to stay with Mahmut in his apartment while he looks for work. Both leads won a well-deserved joint Best Actor award at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. As with any situation in which two people are adjusting to the constant presence of each other, a good deal of strife ensues.

The narrative arc, on a surface level, is rather bland - the apex of the film being the capture of a mouse. But the subtext offers a lot on one subject - distance, in every sense of the word. Distance, physically, from home; distance, emotionally, from other people; distance from one's own self; distance from society. Mahmut especially personifies this distance. Via his own, self-imposed isolated lifestyle, and his need for petty control over others and his environment, he sequesters himself. His distance was not purposely created - he still reaches out with attempted cordiality to acquaintances and what might or might not be a prostitute - yet he fails in these attempts. His auto-manufactured exile is too large to see past. Yusuf's distance is more societal. In essence, he is the country bumpkin visiting the big city. This could have been played for laughs, but an overwhelming pathos pervades in lieu of humor. Close Ups of Yusuf are in shallow-focus, blurring the world behind him - in effect, clouding his already imperceptible surroundings, and the harsh wharf-side cityscape is cruel barrier keeping him at arm's length.

Eventually, Mahmut and Yusuf cease to be two characters. Instead, they become an examination of distance as applied to all humanity. They are a mimetic capture of our alienation as well as a cautionary warning against what we might become. Clearly, it is not isolation that breeds distance - Mahmut is surrounded by colleagues, friends, and passers'by. Rather, it is the cold exterior of an individual toward others. As Mahmut's grievance with Yusuf grows, so does his distance. His self-centered existence produces a self-contained world, for better or worse. The last shot of the film shows Mahmut, alone, sitting on a bench near the wharf while smoking a cigarette. It is a slow, deliberate shot examining a lonely, isolated man; a man who has no idea of how he became who he is.


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