In 10 Words or Less
Familial intrusions make things too close for comfort
Dealing with family is probably the conflict behind the majority of films made, and it's also at the center of Distant. The story of Mahmut, a man unhappy with his life, who is burdened with the presence of his unemployed cousin, Yusuf, this movie is pretty universal. There's something about family that makes it hard to be truthful, no matter what the consequences are to you. Mahmut's difficulties in ridding his life of his cousin plays out like every relative's extended and unwanted visit.
Mahmut, played by an amateur that looks like the Turkish Judd Hirsch, is a photographer who's having something of a midlife crisis. His ex-wife is planning on leaving the country, he's dissatisfied with his work and now, he has to deal with a cousin who is without prospects, as Istanbul suffers through an economic slump. The factory that employed most of Yusuf's village shut down, leaving him looking for any work they he could get. But even that's not available, so he spends his days smoking, watching TV and making a mess of Mahmut's apartment.
To be truthful, that's the entire movie. There's some expansion on the themes, including explanation of why Mahmut's marriage fell apart and more of Yusef's inability to be a part of this society, but in general, the film focuses on how these two men, at different stages in their lives, can't co-exist. They have enough problems of their own, to deal with each others' issues.
Distant won the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes in 2003, which is pretty impressive, considering the competition, including Elephant, Carandiru, Mystic River and Swimming Pool. But how exactly it won over the Jury is a mystery. There's not much going on in this film, outside of the family matters that create friction in Mahmut's home. The camera sits still for lengthy pauses without any action, while at other times it seems to move without thinking about how to make such moves, giving the film the appearance of a pan-and-scan transfer. The still scenes have the appearance of paintings, displaying true artistic ability. But man...it is boring.
New Yorker Video has released Distant on one DVD, packaged in a standard keepcase, with a well-designed four-page insert that lists the features and scene selections. The disc has a static, anamorphic widescreen main menu featuring options to play the film, select scenes, view the special features and change languages, as well as a promo screen for New Yorker Video that has four additional trailers. The scene selection menus include still previews and titles, while language options include Turkish 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks and English subtitles.
For the most part, Distant looks quite good, though there's some dirt here and there. Colors are a bit on the dull side, but that seems to be an intentional effort, as occasional neon signs and reds are bright and vivid. Black levels, on the other hand, are solid. Focus is played with often by Ceylan, but when sharp, the film has very good definition and detail.
The presence of a 5.1 track doesn't make for much in the way of aural improvement, but there is a decent amount of background sound effects. The soundtrack has the right levels for the dialogue, which fluctuates from whispers to shouting. The music here is mostly in the background. The 2.0 track is similarly good, just without the atmosphere created by the surrounds.
The DVD package put together for Distant doesn't look too impressive when put in a list, but sit down to check it out, and you quickly realize it puts some big studio film special editions to shame. First up is a 20-minute short Ceylan made in 1995, Koza (or Coma). Nominated for the Golden Palm for Best Short Film at Cannes, this short is a perfect example of what was the stereotypical view of foreign film: a disjointed series of moody black-and-white images that seem largely symbolic. I'm not even going to pretend as if I know what's going on here, but it's shot well, in full-screen black and white. The director's style was established by this, his first film.
The second bonus, mistakenly titled "Behind-the-Scenes Footage," is actually an extremely interesting look at how Distant was shot. Over 40-minutes long, the full-frame featurette watches Ceylan prepare for a scene and roll camera, and then shows the finished product in letterboxed widescreen. This is a chance to see how he deals with environmental actors, how he works with actors and other aspects of the director's job. Very in-depth and interesting.
The same can be said about the 30-minute interview with Ceylan. If you had a question about how he works, who his influences are or what the character's were all about, (and really, who doesn't?) it will be answered in this anamorphic widescreen featurette. Ceylan answers in English to question that are asked offscreen and unheard, and dead space is edited out with fade-outs. This is one of the better director interviews seen recently, thanks in large part to the subject, who had plenty to say.
Also included are the film's letterboxed theatrical trailer and a grainy, letterboxed still-photo slideshow. If you are even somewhat depressed, avoid the exceedingly depressing trailer, or you may end up suicidal. As noted before, four additional New York Video trailers are here as well: My Architect, Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion, To Be and To Have and Promises.
The Bottom Line
It takes patience to get through this film, and that kind of patience isn't found too often today. I consider myself to be somewhat enlightened when it comes to foreign films, but I couldn't get into this movie. The very deliberate pacing and lack of plot are off-putting. Worse yet, there's not much in terms of payoff when things wrap up. In this reviewer's opinion, the DVD package is actually much more entertaining and interesting that the feature it's there to support. While the artistic vision that went into the film is commendable, the final product is likely too boring for most viewers. Give it a rent if you have a taste for meandering foreign films.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.