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Clouds of May, Distant, Climates

Mayis Sikintisi, 1999
[Clouds of May]

F. CeylanAn impassive young man, Sadik (Sadik Incesu), bides his time smoking a cigarette before running up the street to greet the postman as he delivers the mail, then crosses the median to a neighborhood café to read the long-awaited results of his final examination over a cup of tea. A filmmaker named Muzzafer (Muzaffer Özdemir) arrives at his parents' home in the province in order to scout locations for his next film: a personal project that his cheerful, lackadaisical father, Emin (Emin Ceylan) matter-of-factly (and amusingly) describes as the kind of film that never makes any money. Meanwhile, Muzzafer's mother Fatma (Fatma Ceylan) arrives home with his young cousin, a charming nine-year-old boy with an infectious smile named Ali (Muhammad Zimbaoglu), and curiously proceeds to deposit an unboiled egg into the accommodating boy's pocket before sending him off to school. Preoccupied with a forthcoming federal land survey that could lead to the re-appropriation of a tract of woodland that adjoins the family farm to a public access road - an area that the stubborn old man had deliberately left underdeveloped during a period of transition from village government in order to retain the tall, sheltering trees that seclude the land from traffic (and perhaps indirectly, the encroachment of civilization) - Emin travels with Muzzafer to visit the disputed area where Muzzafer soon realizes that the tranquil, idyllic woods would make an ideal setting for a scene in his film. Meanwhile, the restless Sadik begins to accompany Muzzafer on his scouting trips, hoping to land an adventurous job with the filmmaker that will allow him to leave the uneventful town and relocate to Istanbul. Upon arriving at the home of a prospective elderly actor, Muzzafar and Sadik begin to film test shots of the subject, but soon find themselves at an impasse with the old man over his commanded salary. With the project financially stalled by the high cost of hiring actors, Muzzafer then turns his attention to his reluctant parents, attempting to sway them into acting in his film for free through the screening of a roughly edited home movie that he has lovingly and tenderly assembled during the course of his previous visits home.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan creates a luminous, sensual, affectionate, and understatedly moving pastoral symphony of family, nature, and life's interminably evolving cycle in Clouds of May. Unfolding in unhurried (although appropriately paced) near real-time and incorporating environmental sounds that intensates the experience of observation, attention, and texture, the film achieves a graceful purity and awareness of indigenous environment - a "sensitivity to things" - that the Japanese characterize as mono no aware, a concept defined by eighteenth century scholar Motoori Norinaga on the essence of cultural character: the cadence of insects and birds that accompany Emik and Muzzafar's trip to the disputed farmland; the rolling of tomatoes on the slope of a hill; the clap of thunder and beating of rain that accompanies shots of Fatma and Emin as they humor their son's incessant home video filming; the oppressive, mechanical drone associated with Sadik's tediously uneventful factory job; Ali's amusingly mesmerized obsession with the tinny, digitized melodies produced by a musical watch and subsequently, the curious, multipurpose tool and lighter that plays the opening verses of the Lambada; the unexpected chirping of a hatchling. Inevitably, as his supportive and nurturing family returns to the familiar routine of their seemingly mundane and bucolic life, filmmaker Ceylan, like his alterego Muzzafar, is left to compose an indelible love letter from their profound shared experience, seemingly slowing down the inalterable progress of time to capture a transitory moment of true human connection, enlightenment, and existential grace.

© Acquarello 2004. All rights reserved.

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Uzak, 2002

Ozdemir An impassive man, statically framed in nearly imperceptible long shot slowly, and laboredly, traverses an untreaded, snow-covered open field carrying a duffle bag until he emerges in near frontal medium shot on the other side of the clearing towards a deserted rural road. It is an unhurried, deliberative image that recalls the extended final sequence of Abbas Kiarostami's Through the Olive Trees as the romantically thwarted hero makes his way down the side of a hill to the area where an off-camera director has been surreptitiously observing him as he pursued the reluctant objective of his affection. The understated introductory image proves to be the first of several referential cues that filmmaker would incorporate to tell the deceptively simple, yet acutely observed story of a displaced laborer from the province, Yusuf (Emin Toprak), who, laid off from his factory job and unable to find new employment in his economically depressed village, decides to board a bus bound for Istanbul and arranges to stay at the home of his urbanite cousin, a successful and cosmopolitan art photographer named Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir), as he scouts the city for job opportunities in the hopes of being able to send money home to his aging (and equally destitute) parents and to lead what he perceives to be an exotic life as a global traveling freight ship worker (and perhaps more importantly, to permanently leave his bucolic, insular village). It is a visit that, however polite and cordial, begins to betray traces of Mahmut's character as well, as Yusuf soon finds that he is locked out of his cousin's apartment and is forced to wait at the front lobby while the preoccupied Mahmut, having forgotten Yusuf's planned arrival, stays out into the late evening. Forced into accommodating a reluctant intrusion into his personal space, the intensely private and self-consumed Mahmut grows increasingly resentful and impatient over his aimless and naïve cousin's underformed plans and passivity towards the execution of his seemingly half-hearted (and invariably fruitless) job search - a frustration that irreparably escalates when Mahmut returns from a visit with his hospitalized mother (Fatma Ceylan) to find that Yusuf had indifferently violated a series of his seemingly innocuous, pre-defined house rules during his brief absence.

Distant is an elegantly realized, pensive, and hauntingly lucid exposition on the nature of rootlessness, estrangement, and solitude. From the allusive opening sequence of Yusuf's unhurried ascent onto a hillside road captured from the static camera, Nuri Bilge Ceylan creates a meditative - and refreshingly self-effacing - composition of distilled, concentrated imagery, narrative economy, and reverent paean to deliberately paced cinema. Ceylan's allusions to Andrei Tarkovsky (both directly through a conversation with friends, and indirectly, through excerpts of Stalker and Mirror on television) serve to illustrate Mahmut's innate understanding of the need (though not necessarily the willingness) for artistic and personal compromise. The evocative use of the melancholic theme from Theo Angelopoulos' Landscape in the Mist (as Yusuf rides a streetcar through a shopping district) reinforces the film's similar exploration into the themes of parental disconnection, profound isolation, and existential angst. Even the intrinsic, understated humor that pervades the film becomes a vehicle for a quaint homage in a scene reminiscent of Darezhan Omirbaev's Kaïrat as the timid, introverted hero casually, but deliberately, brushes against an attractive young woman on a public bus. In the end, it is this acceptance of humility, thoughtful sense of place, and embrace of human idiosyncracy that is reflected in Mahmut's early winter morning reverie on a park overlook as uniformly indistinguishable cargo ships navigate through the harbor - an observant reflection of the quiet, unarticulated desolation of self-imposed alienation, adriftness, and emotional transience - a longing to experience the familiar against a tranquil sea of faceless, disconnected anonymity.

© Acquarello 2004. All rights reserved.

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