Unmistakable Art Film From an Unlikely Turkish Source


Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s third feature is a movie of quiet revelations that is itself quite surprising. Ceylan’s exotic Istanbul may remind some viewers of celluloid Scandinavia—a hushed and wintry world of secular alienation, broken marriages, and artistic angst. Distant is an unmistakable art film from an unlikely source. (Actually, the filmmakers to whom Ceylan seems closest in his use of repetition and droll understatement are Abbas Kiarostami and Tsai Ming-liang, both of whom adapted the old-fashioned cine-modernism of Michelangelo Antonioni to urban Asia.) Thoughtfully orchestrated and filled with visual wit, Distant is predicated on a sense of lives that converge but never intersect: Yusuf has left his village looking for work and has invited himself to stay with his older cousin Mahmut, a craggy loner who came to Istanbul years ago and has managed to reinvent himself as a successful photographer. The remote Mahmut is a modern man. He’s distanced from his own feelings, but the title also describes Ceylan’s method. The movie is carefully framed, the camera is more observer than participant, musical cues are absent, and there are lengthy passages without dialogue. The emphasis falls on the space between people—and their failure to bridge that void. The pale light and the constant chill are pervasive presences. Reserve takes on a hard, gem-like quality.