Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Film Remains the Same

Just as John Peel famously only listened to songs once, so I tend to only watch films the one time. After all, most films are plot-driven, and there is little to be gained from watching them again. But two films with very little plot I have watched again recently and, though the films remain the same, I am a slightly different person from when I last watched them, some years ago, and perhaps appreciate them more now than then.

Keane (2004), starring Damian Lewis, is an intense study in mental illness, disillusion and loss. The plot of the whole film we know within the first few minutes: a man is searching for his seven year old daughter who was abducted at a New York coach station a year ago. Or was she? The film offers small clues along the way and we are left guessing whether Keane himself abducted his own daughter or if he even had one in the first place. Since first watching it some time ago, and in the intervening time both known people with mental illnesses and had a daughter, the film took on extra poignancy.

Uzak (2002), a Turkish film set mainly in Istanbul, couldn't be further removed from Keane. Where Keane is febrile and intense, Uzak is leisurely and detached (and Uzak translates as Distant). Concerning a bucolic cousin who comes to visit his relative in Istanbul… er, that's it. But it's a beautiful film, with long static shots of characters doing not very much at all. Since seeing the film first some years ago (and finding it rather dull, to tell the truth), I've been to Istanbul and seen the film Stalker. There's a scene where some characters are discussing the Russian film-maker Tarkovsky, and later, back at home, one of the main characters, a photographer, sits down to watch Stalker with his cousin. When the cousin, bored of the film, goes to bed, the photographer turns off Stalker and puts on a porn film. Anyway, it's one of the few light-hearted moments in the film.

Maybe both films have more in common than I thought. The lack of plot lets one focus on other aspects: acting, locations, the weather (harsh in both films), nuances and small details that get lost or are deemed unimportant in a more expositional film.

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