‘Uzak’ — a film for the boys

ISTANBUL – It is not often the case that during an international festival, the host country’s entry steals the show. Yet, at the 22nd Annual International Istanbul Film Festival recently, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s «Uzak» was one of the films that stood out in the international section and was ultimately awarded by the judging panel led by Irish director Jim Sheridan. The other winning films were Argentinean director Diego Lerman’s «Tan de Repente» (Golden Tulip) and Rebecca Miller’s «Personal Velocity» (Special Jury Prize), both of which deal with women’s issues. In «Tan de Repente,» two lesbians take a saleswoman hostage and embark on an adventurous road trip in true «Thelma and Louise» style, while in «Personal Velocity» three women find themselves at a turning point – the first one leaves her violent husband, the second doubts her well-mannered, yet indifferent partner, while the third is pregnant and has left home after finding herself in an unwanted relationship. «Uzak» on the other hand, is very much a man’s film. One of the films in competition at this month’s Cannes Film Festival, in Istanbul the film was awarded prizes for Best Turkish film and Best Direction, while also receiving the FIPRESCI award. In the film, the director portrays a short and problematic period during which a city photographer and a relative from out of town share a flat. According to Ceylan, the film’s only aim was to show reality. I don’t know whether the movie has any hidden messages,» said the director during discussion with six foreign press journalists at the recent festival, all of whom were looking for alternative interpretations to the film’s images of dusty, covered-in-snow Istanbul. «What I wanted to show was a situation that surrounds me, a situation I know well, and that is that the relationships between those living in the city and those living in the countryside are different nowadays. It is true that when I travel to the countryside, I feel guilty toward my relatives who live there. When you live in the city you can’t offer as much to others as you do when you live in a village.» The film also deals with the difficulties observed by a generation of intellectuals in their 40s. «It is something I sense all around me,» said the 44-year-old Ceylan. «I feel more tired and my energy levels are going down. In any case, I think that, ultimately, we enjoy the complexities of relationships. I often say that those living in the countryside are better off, but when I actually go there myself, I feel sick on the third day. Then I ask myself: ‘Can I live here?’ and the answer is no.” As far as his upcoming presentation at the Cannes Film Festival is concerned, Ceylan appears calm: «The festival is a good place to sell your film abroad,» he said, especially when Turkish audiences did not flock to cinemas for its local screenings – the film had just about 15,000 ticket sales. «That is the kind of reception that all my movies receive,» commented the director. «The reviews are generally good, but for most members of the audience, this is a strange, boring movie.» Another film of considerable interest in Istanbul was Bahman Ghobadi’s «Marooned in Iraq.» An Iranian comedy, the story takes place during the Iran-Iraq war, and narrates the travels of a group of musicians trying to locate their lead vocalist. Particularly timely, the film is full of references to Saddam Hussein, all rendered with humor: While many are cursing the dictator, a doctor replies: «God bless Saddam. So many sick immigrants have crossed the borders, and some of them have lots of money.» Yet the film’s finale is dramatic, with the female singer hiding from her fellow musicians, disfigured by chemical warfare and having lost her voice. Having also lost her husband, she finally realizes that her young daughter’s only chance might be in following the musicians after all.