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On watching Distant, a film by Nuri Bilge Ceylon

Forgive me for spoiling the ending here (though with a film like Distant, there’s really no risk of spoilers because there's barely anything there to be spoiled (this is a good thing)).

It's this film's long, closing shot that will stick with me above all else. Muzzafer Özdemir as Mahmut sits on a bench. (Sounds of Istanbul in winter: seagulls, fog horns, waves crashing.) He's looking out towards the Bosphorus, but really he's seeing whatever he's thinking about; the film gives us clues as to what that might be. There is poignancy – almost a form of intimacy – in watching this actor/character watch things that we can’t explicitly see. And there are the lines and creases and small movements of an incredibly interesting face. He lights a cigarette. The camera zooms, slowly. And that’s it. The scene, in which nothing happens, lasts for more than three minutes, which would be an eternity on the small screen. Books could never do this. There can be hidden depths right there on the surface of things.

Distant was screened as part of a Nuri Bilge Ceylan season at the BFI. Ceylan's latest film, Winter Sleep, has been critically acclaimed. It's in cinemas now.


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