Superlatives are entirely warranted for immensely assured Turkish arthouse drama Uzak, which is filled with a palpable sense of loss and yearning. Written, produced, photographed, edited, and directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, it's the story of Yusuf (Emin Toprak), an unemployed young man from the countryside who comes to a wintry, present-day Istanbul in search of work on the ships. He stays in the apartment of his divorced cousin Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir), a successful yet cynical photographer, who's soon irritated at having his solitary routine disrupted by the presence of his rural relative.
"ACCOMPLISHED AND MEMORABLY MELANCHOLIC"
Uzak is richly contemplative and languid filmmaking, in which Ceylan's camera observes with calm detachment two men who are struggling to cope with the loneliness and transience of modern urban living. Disillusioned with his work "photography is finished", he declares Mahmut has been shocked by the news that his ex-wife Nazan (Zuhal Gencer Erkaya) is emigrating to Canada with her new husband.
Yusuf meanwhile vainly tries to find a job at the docks, and is too shy to talk to the pretty women he sees on the city's snow-laden streets. (A capsized, rusting boat symbolises Yusuf's thwarted aspirations.) Both individuals are shown smoking and gazing out mournfully over Istanbul and its surrounding waters; both seek refuge in watching television.
There's no music on Uzak's soundtrack and the dialogue is minimal, yet Ceylan pays close attention to the sound design, with wind-chimes, lapping waves and the sound of ships' horns helping build the sombre atmosphere. There's also a vein of wry humour in his depiction of the awkward cohabitation between the fastidious Mahmut and the untidy Yusuf: pretending to watch a Tarkovsky film, Mahmut pops in a porno tape, only for his guest to blunder into the room.
Few recent films have been so accomplished in capturing the way people drift through their lives, unable to communicate their emotions and feelings. That the actor Emin Toprak died in a car crash after filming was completed only deepens Uzak's memorably melancholic mood.
In Turkish with English subtitles.