For the students at a remote boarding school for Kurdish boys, survival is a matter of course, especially in the cold winter depths. Meals are meager, the heating doesn’t work, and even the director’s car doesn’t start. Even if it were, he cannot afford snow tires, which makes his vehicle unusable in the thick blanket of snow that covers the mountains of Eastern Anatolia. All you can do is endure and fifth grader Yusuf (Samet Yildiz) has learned that having a low profile will save him the heavy penalties teachers impose on his wilder classmates. But when he discovers his best friend Memo (Nurullah Alaca) One morning Yusuf is seriously ill and needs to make himself visible to make sure that Memo is being taken care of. What unfolds in “Brother’s keeper, “The latest, very carefully composed feature from the Turkish director Ferit Karahanis a difficult lesson for Yusuf about the ruthless sluggishness of bureaucracy, which can feel far cooler than the outside temperatures.
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Karahan’s film takes place in a single day, dividing his time between uncovering the mystery behind Memo’s illness and detailing the guilt game between the teachers and the school administration. What led to Memo lying unconscious in the unoccupied, barely-equipped hospital room seems obvious: the night before, he was punished for taking his weekly bath with cold water only after he was caught arguing with others. However, when stranger details emerge, teachers begin unraveling their own half-hearted investigation, a tapping exercise as they try to determine where Memo had been, who he was with, and who should be at fault for him now, lying and not react. With heavy snow falling, the school’s only work vehicle in the nearest village on an unplanned trip away, roads difficult to pass, and ambulances unavailable for immediate response, everyone tries to net the truth while waiting that conditions are improving.
camera operator Türksoy GölebeyiThe intimate hand camera work and the box-shaped aspect ratio keep us almost exclusively by Yusuf’s side, which turns into a little odyssey through the school’s corridors and classrooms. With a calm and desperate determination, Yusuf navigates a system so fragile and under-equipped that a sick boy and bad weather can almost overturn it. The revamped staff can only take time for the loudest students; often, Yusuf’s attempts to get someone’s attention are thwarted by bad behavior on the part of a student. When he finally succeeds in getting the teachers to take care of Memo, perhaps the greatest revelation to the young man is that those charged with making these boys “valuable citizens of this country and this nation.” to seem almost as helpless as he is in this situation.
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Working with co-author Gülistan AcetFerit Karahan has brought his own boarding school experiences to the story, and the palpable frustration he felt during those years is evident. However, “Brother’s Keeper” never becomes a searing indictment of the hypocrisy and cruelty it so effectively outlines. This is partly due to a couple of jokes that may serve as a metaphorical example of administrative incompetence but tone down the drama of the film. One of them affects anyone who walks into the hospital room, which is in a small building outside the school, slips wildly and falls almost every time their snow-covered boots hit the smooth tile floor. The other sees various officers absurdly standing in a chair to get a decent cell phone signal while trying to arrange some sort of transportation to take Memo to the hospital. Whenever it feels like the drama needs to add tension, those moments temporarily drain the process. Thanks to Samet Yildiz, a non-professional actor who Ferit Karahan manages to evoke a deeply sensitive performance that exposes the unspoken burdens that Yusuf carries on his shoulders from the first picture, the weight of the story is constantly being realigned .
While the specifics of “Brother’s Keeper” are directly related to Ferit Karahan’s own history and the state of these types of schools in Turkey, it’s easy enough to draw parallels that the pandemic has uncovered around the world. It seems that many in positions of power are willing to give up their responsibilities when it comes to answering for them. It doesn’t take far to find politicians desperately trying to shift focus from the catastrophic institutional failures that have resulted in thousands of deaths to an easy scapegoat. The haunting conclusion of the film is a sharp, damned echo between fiction and this reality and a disarming snapshot of resignation and injustice that lingers like so much fallen snow. [B]
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