Though the furthest thing from effects-laden spectacle, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's mesmerizing Distant needs to be seen in a movie theater, because without the subtle impact of its photography and soundtrack, it wouldn't amount to much of anything. A deadpan comedy/drama that details the chilly relationship between an urbanite loner and his visiting cousin from the sticks, the film recalls the odd-couple dynamic in Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, but with even less incident. In a medium primed for movement and action, it's tough to make ennui register for audiences as something other than outright boredom, but Ceylan sustains a precise, evocative mood that's saturated with melancholy. An emerging name in world cinema, Ceylan has drawn comparisons to Andrei Tarkovsky (whose Stalker plays on TV in one scene) and Abbas Kiarostami, but his long takes and funny/sad look at urban alienation have more in common with Taiwan's Tsai Ming-liang (What Time Is It There?), almost like a mirror image from the other side of the continent. The slow-burning tension in Distant only manifests itself in one melodramatic scene, yet the film communicates everything it needs to about the ever-widening gulf that separates two men from each other and the world around them. Living a comfortable middle-class existence in Istanbul, photographer Muzaffer Özdemir numbs the pain of a recent divorce through discreet sessions with a prostitute, but his sadness swells when his ex-wife announces that she's moving to Canada to start a new life with someone else. A clean, fastidious, and antisocial personality, Özdemir finds his sanctuary broken when his cousin Emin Toprak, a slovenly simpleton from his old hometown, comes to stay with him while looking for work on a ship. After quickly finding that the recession is as bad in Istanbul as it is in the country, Toprak spends the days and weeks wandering the city aimlessly, trying (and failing) to work up the courage to approach various young women. These men have loneliness in common, but they certainly don't turn to each other for company—especially Özdemir, who drives Toprak out of the room by flipping to soporific TV shows, then pops in a porno tape after he leaves. More often than not, Ceylan favors camera and sound effects over dialogue and action to suggest their feelings of remove, blurring the foreground or background of a shot to make focal distance seem physical or suffusing scenes with the far-off horns and lapping waves of the harbor. While it takes a little patience to engage with it, Distant has an indelible sense of city life that can't be expressed in words.
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