More often than not, the power of social realism can be a persuasive tool to observe the terror from within. Utilising a purposefully distant and objective point of view, some of the more prominent realist auteurs from the past few decades (Arnold, Loach and Leigh) have utilised challenging framing devices in order to explore the intricacies of social politics and other subtle commentaries. In the case of director Ferit Karahan, the Turkish director moulds a different kind of coming of age story with his social-realist vision. His film entitled Brother’s Keeper takes place over the span of one brutal day. We follow young Yusuf on his own personal journey of regret and reflection, when his best friend is suddenly stricken with a mysterious health condition.
Brother’s Keeper is a coldly calculated affair in its crucial commentary on the offered quality of education within the Eastern Anatolian region. Taking place in a regional boarding school, the ghastly howl of the winter breeze within the high-altitude campus creates a whirlwind of tension and despair as the hours pass. Brother’s Keeper is often challenging and tough to stomach — although never exploitative within its grim depictions. Swerving through a prominent POV of young Yusuf, the film observes all the intricate mannerisms and abusive behaviour featured within the school grounds. Even a brief commentary on the parental perspective of these school environments is briefly explored in one particularly devastating scene — adding a level of high-stakes and desperation to the aforementioned central conflict.
With its glorious attention to detail and atmosphere, the only prominent detractor to the piece is the film’s unnecessary opening act. Brother’s Keeper works best when it specifically attempts to unravel the mystery at hand regarding Memo’s health condition. With the opening scene — taking place the night before the crucial crux of events — the majority of the mystery and suspense is already stripped away from the film due to unjustified additional detail. The conversations that take place within the third act already provide enough sufficient detail and development towards the character insights at hand. Suspense, especially in a film such as Brother’s Keeper, is an integral part of its story and commentary. Without it, or even a lack of it, the impact of Karahan’s statements are diminished from the bigger picture. In some ways, this specific criticism is the only element keeping the film from reaching that extra step towards greatness.
A young child, the snowy school climate, the draconian staff, and its slippery floors. The world for young Yusuf is but a cruel testament to the lack of care for the children within the film’s depicted educational facilities. Littered with complex and provoking moral dilemmas, Karahan’s distinct lack of cheese or other flashy semantics adds a level of commitment to providing its audience with a miserable viewing experience. Miserable, as in specifically crafting a deeply satisfying artistic piece — a film that compliments its misery with an enriching dosage of amplified social criticism.
Dir: Ferit Karahan
Cast: Samet Yıldız, Ekin Koç, Mahir İpek, Melih Selçuk
Runtime: 85 minutes
Brother’s Keeper premiered at this year’s 71st Berlinale as part of the Panorama program. Intramovies will release the film in the coming months.