Distant Constellation

 

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Old age viewed in striking images that yet prove to be an approach ill-suited to a cinema feature.

 
Distant Constellation

 

It is relatively unusual but certainly not that uncommon to find a film that has been photographed by its director. It applies here and it’s a fact that struck me as significant because all the best things in Shevaun Mizrahi’s Distant Constellation stand as evidence of a stills photographer of obvious talent. Her purpose in this documentary shot in Istanbul is to show elderly people whose lives are winding down as they pass the time in an old people’s retirement home. Their faces are often memorable and there is a strong compositional sense in showing us views of the inside of this establishment that capture the sense of a very impersonal setting.

 

To be fair there are moments in this film when, seeking to supply a contrast by showing nearby construction work by men still relatively youthful, Mizrahi uses shots containing movement (often within the frame) which underline the fact that just outside is another world. But, if an exhibition of still photographs by Shevaun Mizrahi on the subject of old age might well be appealing, I find it difficult to find much of value in watching the inmates on screen for around 82 minutes.

 

Like Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries, there’s no commentary here while, in contrast to what Wiseman would have done, Mizrahi virtually ignores the people running the place in favour of images of those living there (they include an Armenian woman raking over past tragic memories and touching on her time as a nanny and a photographer living with the knowledge that cancer is robbing him of his sight). An odd couple, two old men, who continually go up and down in a lift, speak of alien invasions and parrot the repeated phrase “Life is like that”: presumably it is for real even if they sound unbalanced, but it comes across like a much inferior rewrite of Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Odd in another way is the 75-year-old inmate obsessed by sexual thoughts as he discusses Lolita and reads from his own erotic writings and even asks the director (aged thirty according to him but unseen by us) if she will marry him.

 

As a portrayal of old age, Distant Constellation could hardly be more depressing and, unless those being photographed got some satisfaction out of it, it is difficult to see it as being of benefit to anyone. Apparently it was filmed over some years but no use is made of that and nothing in the film stems from it. There is a world of difference between on the one hand viewing piercing pictures in an exhibition, pictures that capture and express a person or an existence, and on the other hand spending a whole feature film in the sad presence of aged people whose lives go round in small circles. In the last few minutes, a man’s recollection of a near-drowning is dramatic enough to grip us, but this is the exception here and it comes much too late to make cinema seem the right medium for Shevaun Mizrahi.

 

Footnote: It was after writing this review that I learnt that Shevaun Mizrahi has indeed exhibited photographs in art galleries.

  

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Selma, Roger Dumas, Ośep Miwasoǧlu, Serkis Ziflioǧlu, İzzet Cemal Alpokay, Halit Horoz, Onur Öztek, Gaspar Beyleryan, Stavrula Pavletiç, Müzeyyen Baǧci, İsmail Keleş.

 

Dir Shevaun Mizrahi, Pro Shelly Grizim and Deniz Buga, Ph Shevaun Mizrahi, Ed Shevaun Mizrahi and Shelly Grizim.

 

Cinephil-ICA Cinema.
82 mins. Israel/Turkey/USA. 2017. Rel: 17 August 2018. No Cert.