A quick little disclaimer before we begin; I’ve reacted a lot more personally to this film than I normally try to do, and as such my review goes quite in-depth into my personal life, for reasons that will be clearly evident. Still, I thought it warranted mention, especially since I’ve tended to keep my personal life separate from this blog, until now.
The literal translation of this Turkish title, Uzak, means “distant”. This should be your first hint as to the type of film this will be like. It deals with two men, living together, and what this situation and others do to them psychologically and emotionally. This film, in particular, was quite effective (and affective) to a person like me. I’ve yet to bring it up because it hasn’t been relevant in my reviews of films, but this one struck me so personally that to avoid speaking about it would be to try and explain why this film is so important without actually discussing what’s important about it, at least to me. See, I am one of millions of Americans that are currently suffering from depression. It’s not nearly as bad as it used to be, but it is still there, and likely always will be. In particular, my diagnosis is a subset of depressive disorders called dysthymia, along with social anxiety disorder and mild agoraphobia. The best description I’ve come across to describe dysthymia comes courtesy of my therapist; it just makes you feel like a lump. You’re not really depressed, or manic, or bipolar, or anything that deals with emotions, because you basically don’t have them; instead of the highs and lows of life that normal people feel, our emotional barometer is more like a flat-line EKG – you just feel “meh” all the time. It’s a constant ennui that, despite the presence of occasional good days and bad days, seems ever-pervasive. If you still don’t quite understand what it would really be like to live like this, all I can say is: watch Uzak. Because this film hits it right on the head.
Uzak is the story of two men, Mahmut and Yusuf. They are relatives. Yusuf arrives at Mahmut’s flat and asks to stay with him for a little while until he is able to get a job on a freighter, like he’s always wanted to do. Mahmut is a photographer, albeit one who seems to be without a passion for his work. And that right there is the film; it explores not the relationship between the two men, but how their living together affects their mood and their lack of passion and energy. Both men, I would say, are sufferers of a mood disorder of some kind; that their situations closely mirror dysthymia is just my personal take on the both of them. Still, if I am wrong, I’m not far off the mark; both men live their lives… just as is, doing various menial things that arise in their brains, taking care of them, and then moving onto the next, almost like their whole life is on autopilot. It’s when there is nothing to do, though, that their situation is the most real, and the most affecting. It is here that their extremely limited resources of energy and willpower are made most evident. Hell, the film itself is a mirror of their experience. It is very stoically shot, with seemingly automatic camera movements and diagrammatic shot placements, and muted cinematography (that still manages to evoke a sense of poetic beauty). There are very few sound effects that are not practical, and there is almost a complete lack of music; all to keep the focus on the listlessness of these men’s lives. To add depressing and soulful music behind their ennui would be dishonest to what these people really go through; there is no soundtrack to life, especially when there is no passion or excitement in yours. There’s just… emptiness. A lack of something, anything, no matter what that might be. That’s depression, and that’s Uzak.
This film spoke to me, as I had a good feeling it would. Its primary message was; you are not alone. There are people like this all over the world. They are not lazy. They do not just refuse to care. They are simply empty. Where other people have a nice roaring fire inside their personal furnaces, they merely have a handful of smoldering ashes. It is not their choice. They cannot just “get over it” or choose to pick themselves up and just do whatever it is they need to do. It is like AIDS of the mind. Sufferers of AIDS do not choose to become sick, and they cannot just force themselves to get better; their immune systems are simply not there, not able to fight off sickness the way a normal person could. People with depression or dysthymia, like the protagonists of this film, just don’t have that reserve of willpower that other people take for granted; if they were to try, what willpower and effort they do have in them is quickly used up and extinguished, and they are unable to do very much else, not by the choice to be lazy but by the inability to consciously make the effort. Now, that’s not to say that people with depression or dysthymia should just not bother trying in the first place and give up; as I’ve personally found, willpower is much like a muscle – it may be atrophied, but continuing to try and make the effort will build it up to the point that you can do a lot more than you previously could. It is a constant struggle, a never-ending battle with your own deficiencies. And, really, that’s just life. Uzak, fittingly, ends not with a bang but with a whimper; a portent of a life to come. It may be a difficult one, but nothing worth having in life is easy.
All this said, this will likely be a difficult watch for many. It is deliberately slow and melancholic, with many long takes with no music and little dialogue to bridge the gap of time. It is this that is largely why I gave it the rating I did. However, I can still attest to this film’s placement on the list, if for no other reasons than personal reasons, especially in today’s day and age where the term “mentally ill” is becoming as misunderstood and discriminatory as any ethnic slur. If you don’t understand these people, Uzak is an excellent way to get yourself into their heads. This is what it is like to live with depression, or a mood disorder in general. It’s not entertaining, because living with depression isn’t fun. But it is necessary for people to understand, and hopefully do a little better job of empathizing with.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10
New longest post right here. It may not have spoken as much about the film as my other long posts have, but in ways, this one earned it.