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Mahmut, a 40 year old independent photographer, is a "village boy made good" at least professionally in the big city - Istanbul in this case. After his wife leaves him, he falls into an existential crisis. Then comes his cousin Yusuf, who left his native village after a local factory closed down, effectively unemploying over half the local men. He looks to Istanbul for salvation: a job on board a ship sailing abroad, at once exciting and crucial to supporting his family in the desperately poor village. The distance between the two men is apparent at once, and becomes increasingly pronounced. Whereas Mahmut is adusted to big city life and suffers from many of its neuroses, Yusuf is a lonely, excentric country worker with annoying nervous and hygienic habits, and a sick mother back home he must somehow support. This intimate drama was filmed in the director's apartment in Istanbul, using all his furniture, appliances, rooms, car and so on as the film's props. The actor playing Yusuf is ... Written by
Uzak (2002), a Turkish film shown in the U.S. as "Distant,"
was directed, produced, written, and filmed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
This movie is a gritty and somber version of the clash between a "city mouse," Mahmut, played by Muzaffer Özdemir, and a "country mouse," Yusuf, played by Emin Toprak.
Both men are superb actors, and the plot allows them to demonstrate their acting skill. (Tragically, Emin Toprak died in an automobile accident shortly after the movie was completed.)
In most country cousin/city cousin tales, the contrast between rural and urban life styles is portrayed in a humorous fashion. In this film, there's little humor or even warmth. Both men have lost touch with human society. Mahmut 's work as a commercial photographer for a tile company gives him no satisfaction. He has divorced a woman he clearly still loves, and has no satisfying human relationships.
Mahmut has lost his job because of a factory closing in his small town, and doesn't have the skills or the energy to find work in the city. His human interactions are primarily confined to silent observations of the other people who cross his path. He's clearly a warm and caring person, but can't express these qualities in an urban environment.
The cousins don't relate well to the world, and they don't relate well to each other. Neither makes an effort to act in a way that would provide an opportunity for bonding or closeness.
In a sense, this film portrays an opportunity wasted.
Conceivably, each cousin could have provided at least part of what was lacking in the other's life. Instead, they steer parallel unhappy courses. The two men are distant throughout, which is a situation suggested by the film's title.
One of my friends mentioned the masterful way in which Ceylan builds detail upon detail. These details ultimately tell us more about the characters than we might have learned by simple exposition.
Uzak was shown as part of the Rochester Labor Film series. It's not a "labor film" in the traditional sense of that genre. It is a labor film because it demonstrates the harmful effects of unsatisfying work (Mahmut) and unemployment (Yusuf).
This is a quiet, absorbing, dark film. Although it doesn't make for happy viewing, I walked out of the theater realizing that I had seen a truly creative and important movie. This film is worth finding and seeing!
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