Distant, a film from TurkeyI’m going on a trip to Turkey in a couple of months with some dear companions, so we’re doing a bit of prep work to be better able to see what we will be seeing when we get there.  I’d read of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest movie, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, and thought I’d look around to see what else he’d done; quite a bit it seems. As Distant [2002] was available at Netflix in the streaming format, I started with that.  An upbeat movie this is not.

The opening shots are of a distant figure approaching over a wide, snowy field. The skies are leaden. The man is small and dark.  As he gets nearer we see he is wearing loafers.  He waits for a bus.  His destination is Istanbul.  Where it is snowing.

[Interesting, I’d never thought of Turkey as a snowy place, but there’s something of a connection between the two at least in the minds of Ceylan and Orhan Pahmuk whose novel Snow I’ve just finished reading: ~ three days of snow — like it was the end of the world– in the far north-eastern town of Kars. ]

The traveler is Yusuf [Emin Toprak  ] the country cousin who descends on his semi-willing city cousin Mahmut [Muzaffer Özdemir ], who gets less willing as the movie goes on.  Yusuf isn’t a dead-beat.  He pursues his probably unrealistic dream of  working on a ship day after day, walking through the snow, again in his thin shoes. [Good  shots of Istanbul’s working waterfront – no beautiful cruise ships here.]  Even though we may not like him, be a bit suspicious of him, we can feel the pain in his feet.  His mother in the village needs dental work and he tries to counsel her, sometimes in secretly made phone calls.  Even though he is conscious of his status as a guest and cleans up after himself, it’s not enough for his more fastidious host.

Mahmut has a certain amount of security and prestige as a photographer, though doing stupid catalog photos for money and longing to create “art” in odd studio settings or in ramblings to the countryside.  We discover his wife and he have separated and she is going to Canada with her new partner despite the lingering longing from each.  A sequence in the airport as he secretly watches her go is a heartbreaker.  Oh, and he has a bit of a porn habit his country cousin puts a crimp in.

Recommended for all?  Probably not.  But interesting to see inside the lives of modern Istanbul Turks, and to know that ennui is not just a word for the French; that modernity, whatever its comforts — the apartment is warm, the streets are not– can damage the spirit regardless of the particular culture it descends upon.

I’ve got more of Ceylan’s films coming in the disk format and will get in line when Once Upon a Time in Anatolia arrives; the reviews uniformly praise it.

Another film from Turkey I particularly liked was Bliss, not to be missed by anyone interested in the tension between the old, the religious and the traditional and a woman discovering, and insisting on, her personhood.