Familial intrusions make things too close for comfort
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.
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 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