Review: Brother’s Keeper

Written and directed by Ferit Karahan, co-written by Gülistan Acet, Yusuf and his best friend Memo are pupils at a boarding school for Kurdish boys, secluded in the mountains of Eastern Anatolia. When Memo falls mysteriously ill, Yusuf is forced to struggle through the bureaucratic obstacles put up by the school’s repressive authorities to try to help his friend. Starring: Samet Yildiz, Ekin Koç, Mahir Ipek, Melih Selcuk, Cansu Firinci, Nurullah Alaca, Mert Hazir and Mustafa Halli.

One of the most fascinating elements of Brother’s Keeper is that it never quite lets you know where you stand until the very end. It’s a wonderfully mysterious atmosphere, undoubtedly a drama in story but in tone, Ferit Karahan cleverly manages to strike a note of horror, thrill, suspense and comedy. Its use of colour gives a 1980s feel, its pastel hues soften the otherwise fairly unforgiving landscape which its poor young residents are stuck in. The sense of isolation is strong, with the great natural visuals plus the relentlessly cold weather, that almost makes you shiver just watching it.

The way that it moves almost feels like a blend of Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War and Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In. It’s slow but gripping, hard to watch at times but also such a sweet example of a kind, generous sensitive young boy. There’s also a comedy in the sheer incompetence of its adults, totally ill equipped to look after children. It brings a certain repetition that’s both satisfying and saddening to watch. The sadness eventually turns to a wrenching heartbreak, which rounds the film out perfectly. There’s a brief but touching exploration into the larger pressures and responsibilities on Yusuf’s (Yildiz) shoulders, it’s crushing to think of a child living with such a heavy weight over him.

A plight that is brought to life superbly by Samet Yildiz, it’s an intensely difficult role for a boy of his age but he gives an incredible performance. It’s vulnerable, emotional, caring and with a maturity beyond his few years. The rest of the cast is very much an ensemble, they each have something to add. The staff of the school are quick to pass blame, casual with child abuse and completely incapable, a pathetic group of men with overly big egos. The film’s children are a classic mix of archetypes, they’re pushing bravado and sarcastic humour but all have the same fear in common of the harsh punishments too easily thrown around.

Brother’s Keeper is not to be underestimated, it’s a gripping story, smartly directed and written to touch upon a number of different tones which blend together excellently. Samet Yildiz gives a fantastic performance, leading the film effortlessly with his kind, fearful and resilient qualities. It moves slowly but thoughtfully, never losing your attention for a second.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2021

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