Review: Leylak

Directed by Scott Aharoni and Dennis Latos, written by Mustafa Kaymak, in present day Queens, New York, a Turkish gravedigger is unable to face a shattering truth, and risks losing the dearest connection left in his life. Starring: Nadir Saribacak, Isabella Haddock, Gamze Ceylan, Samrat Chakrabarti and Tony Naumovski.

One of the absolute best things a short dramatic film can achieve is getting across the themes and origins of its story without having to really say anything and that’s what Leylak does. You easily can feel the hint of desperation, the sadness and loss without the characters ever needing to outwardly talk about it. While the story is even more relevant in a post-pandemic world, it’s much more widely accessible than that. The writing holds a strong sincerity and brings out its raw emotion in a way that’s genuine but not overwhelming. Mustafa Kaymak finds a relatively simple way to tell an unenviably complex tale of emotion and a universal experience, which makes the film incredibly touching.

Scott Aharoni and Dennis Latos use a directorial style which centres around a lot of handheld shots, which provides some great movement to the visual, and goes hand in hand with the raw nature to the story. It has a certain honest quality which does a great justice to the themes its exploring, many would have been tempted to exploit the New York setting but Aharoni and Latos keep it very much everyday, on the street. There’s also a very interesting texture and hue to the cinematography (by Laura Valladao) particularly in the opening, it has a richness that comes through in a warm fashion rather than sharp. As well as choosing to let the quietness do some of the work for them, allowing the emotions to land even stronger.

With that style of understated drama, there’s a lot asked of Nadir Saribacak to portray a large range of emotion while remaining refined but he does a great job. A melancholy air lingers in the background, growing stronger as the story reaches its finale, Saribacak’s performance has almost a haunting quality to it as he finally has to simply face the reality of his situation. Isabella Haddock brings a quintessential cusp of teenage life personality, with all its impatience and frustration. The performances waivers a little in the most heightened moment of emotion, it doesn’t land with as big of a kick as hoped but for such a young actress, it’s a strong effort.

Leylak is moving, understated and honest. It cleverly holds back and lets minimal dialogue, a simple yet very effective visual style and a quiet atmosphere, tell its story better than pages of dialogue ever could. It’s lead by humble performances and Nadir Saribacak gets across the intense struggle of his character with an artful subtlety.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

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