It would take a telescope to observe anything exciting in “Distant Constellation,” Shevaun Mizrahi’s aptly named exercise in extreme-minimalist documentary. Said to be intended as a reflection on shifts in Turkish history and identity, it is too diffuse and withholding to add up to a cogent result.
Mizrahi has cited the influence of the Portuguese director Pedro Costa, who in a trilogy of films shot in the Lisbon slum of Fontainhas allowed residents to shape their dialogue and scenes. Mizrahi, taking her cues from her subjects, has appropriated Costa’s style pretty faithfully. For the location, she has selected a retirement home and an adjacent construction site in the Istanbul neighborhood where her father grew up.
The home’s residents include a photographer who fusses with his old Nikon but can no longer see, and a dirty old man (there’s no other phrase for it) who shares recollections of sex parties and, late in the film, tentatively proposes marriage to the offscreen filmmaker, who did her own camera and sound work.
Most interestingly, a centenarian woman who asks to be identified only as Selma shares memories of surviving the Armenian genocide. Her family took on Turkish names and was forced to convert to Islam. At one point she nods off on camera; Mizrahi cuts to her waking up and apologizing — an inclusion that seems partly humorous and partly cruel.
A case can be made for the sterile beauty of the home’s shadowy bedrooms and of the snowfall outside. “Distant Constellation” maintains an unadorned purity at the expense of quite a bit else.