230. Uzak (Turkey 2002)
Director/Producer/Cinematography/Screenplay: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Starring: Muzzafer Ozdemir, Mehmet Emin Toprak.
Music: virtually none
Fact: The film won the 2003 Grand Prix at Cannes
Fact: Ozdemir and Toprak were awarded best actor at Cannes. Toprak (above) was killed in a car crash just after nomination.
Fact: 'Uzak' = 'distant'
In one line: An unsophisticated villager stays in his cousin's apartment in Istanbul.
Mahmut (Ozdemir) has left his village and created a comfortable, but empty existence in Istanbul. His friends remind him that he wanted to be the 'new Tarkovsky', but now his ambitions have deserted him and he continues to make a dull living as a photographer for a ceramics factory. His wife has long gone and is about to leave for a new life with her new partner in Canada. Mahmut still loves her, but cannot express his real inner feelings. His life consists of work, punctuated with internet surfing, wartching porn on TV and cracking one off in a joyless, desultory fashion. Mahmut is reminded of his past when he is asked to put up his unemployed cousin Yusuf for the week whilst the man seeks a job on one of the big ships that can be seen sailing the Bosphorous from Mahmut's apartment. Yusuf is a quiet but gauche guest. He keeps on transgressing the rules and etiquette of Mahmut's midlle-class and ordered modus vivendi. Yusuf searches fruitlessly for employment in the winter snows of Istanbul and then has to return to Mahmut's apartment to discover which house rule he has inadvertently broken. The situation deteriorates rapidly when Mahmut has to visit his mother in hospital and Yusuf is left alone in the apartment.
A sad, wistful and subtle piece of film making. Auteur director Ceylan used his own apartment for the main action of the film and used his friends Ozdemir (who wasn't an actor) and Toprak in the lead roles.
The film examines the pressures of extending courtesy and expressing humanity in a small space as well as looking at how we institutionalise our own behaviour through habit and societal forces. Yusuf is a kind and spiritual man, but he is child-like and not terribly intelligent. Mahmut is seemingly emotionally cold and he does not like the order of his life and life space being invaded and challenged.
When a mouse that Mahmut has been trying to track down throughout the film is finally trapped in the 'sticky mouse tape', the two men's reactions to its plight tell us so much about the way that life has shaped them. Mahmut wants to leave it for the caretaker to remove whereas Yusuf worries that it will suffer and squeal all night. Mahmut tells him to put it in a plastic bag and throw it the pile of binbags outside. Yusuf complies, and Mahmut watches from his window as Yusuf throws the bag on the rubbish pile, but then returns to mercy kill the mouse so that it doesn't suffer in the plastic bag.
Yet again, I won't spoil the ending, but life lessons are (half) learned and regret and a sense of loss are the emotions and order of the day.
Great photography, excellent naturalistic acting and a lesson to all film makers that less is often more.
A superb film.