Distant Constellation Review
There is always a chance that a film about old age and death could become heavy going and a little too morose but that is never an issue in director Shevaun Mizrahi’s debut, Distant Constellation. This thoughtful and insightful documentary focuses on a retirement home in Istanbul, Turkey, quietly observing its residents who candidly reflect on their memories and life up until this point.
Mizrahi is a cinematographer by trade who began volunteering in the home back in 2009 and initially she only filmed small sketches of the people living there for personal use. The arrival of a construction site next door created a tension between the stillness of life for those seeing out their final years inside the home, against the changing shape of the world outside filled with young workers literally and figuratively building their own lives. Out of this Mizrahi's film slowly formed and she pieced together a longer form documentary to put this disparity into clearer perspective.
There are four main characters Mizrahi returns to over the 80 minutes. One is an old Armenian woman who recalls the tragedy her family faced during the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Another is a man remembering the freedom of life in Paris in the 50s and his various sexual conquests. Two brothers spend most days going up and down in the elevator putting the world to rights, while an ex-photographer dealing with eye cancer proudly shows off his camera and paraphernalia.
They may not have led spectacular lifestyles but their memories are rich and unique, speaking of the joys and regrets lived in a time before our own. Inside many of the rooms a ticking clock can be heard in the background, acting as a constant reminder that time is no longer on their side. There is a slight sense of loneliness for some who do not have much contact with the outside world, but there is also an acceptance and willingness to make the most of what they do have left.
What Mizrahi shows us is the vitality and enthusiasm these people still share even in such a distilled environment. The camera never moves from its fixed shots of those speaking on camera, or when venturing into other areas of the retirement home, and much like those living there Mizrahi creates a calm serenity through her lens. She returns to shots of the evolving building site next door and bookends the film by showing some of the living and working routines of the young workers whose lives exist on the other end of life's scale.
Distant Constellation displays a kindness and empathy towards its subjects by crafting a warm portrait of humanity expressed in the simplest of terms. These are snatches of lives that have been lived and meaningful memories that still feel vividly real. In many respects we could be watching our future selves and we can only hope we are lucky enough to reach a similar ripe age with such a sparkle in our eye.