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A dowdy university instructor Isa is an inattentive husband to his younger, TV-business wife Bahar. Self-absorbed and selfish, Isa only communicates in the most rudimentary way, while she, similarly, detaches into crying jags and juvenile behavior.
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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
Outstanding film with a lot to say, not just about modern Turkey
It's probably a year since I saw Uzak, but it has left strong memories of the two main characters, jaded photographer Mahmut and his naive cousin from the village Yusuf.
It's a long film with very little dialogue and a quite limited plot. This has evidently annoyed a fair few viewers. But the film constructs such a painfully believable portrait of Mahmut and Yusuf that there's just as much emotional tension as in the paciest thriller.
Just to be clear, there's no padding in this film -- in the long pauses where no one speaks there as much happening in the characters' emotions (and in yours, watching them) as you could bear. Go to see it awake and alert, and you'll be gripped rather than anaesthetised.
Uzak rings true in so many ways, and that sincerity is probably its greatest accomplishment. People don't grapple with events and problems, so much as with each other. In fact, in the whole film, there's probably not one point where the main characters (Mahmut, Yusuf and Mahmut's ex-wife Nazan) are not opposed.
Much of it is true the world over: country cousin Yusuf's perhaps wilfully naive expectation that a job on a ship will drop into his lap; Mahmut's urbanised cynicism and unwillingness to sympathise with Yusuf.
Other truths are more-specific to Turkey: Yusuf's incomprehension that Mahmut might be tolerating his stay with gritted teeth; Yusuf veering between macho ambition and wide-eyed awkwardness when he tries to get to know a woman.
Uzak is undoubtedly a pretty bleak film, and one Ceylan's strengths is not to beat us over the head with the themes he explores. For me at least, I believed entirely in the behaviour of his characters. All the little failed attempts to connect and petty cruelties ring so true. And yet I didn't leave with a message that "The world is like that", but instead I got "This is how we sometimes treat each other."
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