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"Where the hell are the stinkin' pigeons?"

© 2004, New Yorker Films
All Rights Reserved

It's the Turkish word for distance -- "Uzak" (IMDb listing) -- and the film's title aptly captures something writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan used to feel acutely in his younger years, the distance between a person and the rest of the world.

"All my films have been about the distance between people," Ceylan, who earned an engineering degree before going to film school, explains. "Art and cinema did me good and helped me make peace with this feeling." It is indeed a state of mind Ceylan is able to explore deeply, and he captures it very intensely, and occasionally quirkily, on the screen, leaving his audience feeling at once intimately involved and utterly outside the plot.

Middle-aged, melancholic, divorced and obsessive, professional photographer Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir) exists in his own bleak little universe. Then his younger cousin Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Toprak) arrives in Istanbul from his country village where there are no more jobs to be had, and, intending to find employment on one of the ships that frequent the city's harbor, asks to stay with Mahmut for a little while. Obliged by family ties, Mahmut rather grimly agrees and quickly regrets his decision when Yusuf's presence begins to interfere with his comfortable routine. Yusuf finds himself in an equally uncomfortable position, as jobs aren't easy to come by in the big city and his motivation increasingly wanes the more he encroaches into Mahmut's distant and colorless world.

"Uzak" stands out for both its engaging and lovingly detailed cinematography and its terrific performances by Özdemir and Toprak, who shared a Grand Prix and Best Actor win at Cannes in 2003. Tragically Toprak, hailed as a promising newcomer of Turkish cinema, had died in a car crash on his way home after picking up an acting trophy in Ankara in December 2002.

Talking about his film at a Cannes press conference, Ceylan, who sees "Uzak" as a criticism of how we live in cities today, explained: "City-dwellers try to organize their lives in a way that they don't have to count on anyone but themselves, and end up building their own prison cell. We don't ask anything of anyone, nor do we give anything either." A point he makes extensively, at times rather slowly, but unerringly and accurately. While it isn't an entertaining night out at the movies, it's food for thought and if you stick with it until the end you might just say "hi" to your neighbor on the way home.

Filmfodder Grade: B

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