There isn’t much of a story to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Distant, which observes the petty differences between a passive-aggressive photographer and the cousin he opens his apartment to. The entire film is stitched together from a collection of long shots that stress the expansive emotional distance between the odd couple. This deliberate strategy is borderline strenuous but largely works because it’s so deceptively uncomplicated.
Via this pretense-free aesthetic, Ceylan invites the audience to take an unadulterated peek at the little dramas that incite his main character’s obsessive-compulsiveness. If there’s not a whole lot that happens in the film, that’s more or less the point. Once an aspiring filmmaker with delusions of being the next Tarkovsky, Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir) mostly spends his time moping and watching television (the film’s funniest bit observes the artist trying to bore his cousin to bed so he can continue watching porn). And since Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Toprak) can’t find a job at the docks, he busies himself by stalking a local woman.
Because Mahmut’s large book collection so beautifully implies his introspective spirit, it’s a shame that Ceylan falls for more obvious metaphors (here, a mouse and a shooting toy soldier). More evocatively, the filmmaker forces us to glean as much as possible about these men’s lives using the expansiveness of the film’s frame—that and the actual tidbits of information the he actually does afford the audience via one-way telephone conversations, answering machine messages, and Mahmut’s quickie get-together with his ex-wife. It’s a calculated approach, but it ensures that Distant gets, and stays, under the skin.
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