Brother's Keeper

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Brother's Keeper
"The director shows the warmth of the children against the cool aloofness of teachers who feel little connection to their wards, even as we know even Yusuf's herculean efforts are likely to prove ineffectual." | Photo: Diren Duzgun/Asteros Film/Courtesy Berlinale

The chill of anxiety is written all over the face of little Yusuf (Samet Yildiz) through most of this boarding school drama, a fearfulness borne, if not of direct experience then most certainly of expectation and something that has long since settled on him and his schoolmates, piling up like the snow which falls constantly outside.

There are few things more vulnerable looking than a child in a towel, and that's where Ferit Karahan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Gülistan Acet, begins the action, as the kids queue for their weekly bath, where they share a bucket, three to a cubicle. Although we never see the sticks that the masters frequently carry employed, like the children, there's always a fear that they might be. Horsing around is not tolerated, punished by the insistence that the kids wash in cold water, under the watchful eye of a slightly older prefect, petrified, in turn, into doing his bit, captured at close quarters by Karahan and his cinematographer Türksoy Gölebeyi, so that we can almost feel the goosebumps.

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Yusuf watches his mate Memo (Nurullah Alaca) suffer the punishment from a different cubicle, offering an additional towel of consolation as they head to their dorm room. It's a rare gesture of warmth in an environment that repels such things, the children groomed to be at least as unpleasant as the teachers in their interactions, the school run in a way that falls just a hair short of brutality. Memo doesn't like the dark and wakes Yusuf for comfort but to give it would be to admit a vulnerability but, when the next day dawns and Memo complains of sickness and a headache, it's Yusuf who hovers at his side. The teacher suspects malingering but packs him off to the sick bay, run not by a nurse but another prefect... if Yusuf can actually locate him. Soon it's clear Memo is very sick indeed.

Karahan builds his film carefully from these sorts of small incidents as the full story of what has happened gradually comes to light, a mixture of casual cruelty and cover-up created by the environment. One by one, teachers and other staff start to pile up in the sick room as the heating breaks and the weather worsens, each bearing a flake of responsibility that has built to the drift that has swept Memo up as the details of the night before begin to emerge. The director shows the warmth of the children against the cool aloofness of teachers who feel little connection to their wards, even as we know even Yusuf's herculean efforts are likely to prove ineffectual. Karahan keeps a grip on the mood, showing how even something which would normally provide a moment of levity - the teachers repeatedly slipping as they enter the door of the sick bay - is shorn of humour here. Affecting in its measured critique of this sort of environment, you might want to have a mug of soup handy afterwards, to help shake off the cold.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2021
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When a boy falls ill at an authoritarian boarding school, his friend struggles to get the staff to take notice.

Director: Ferit Karahan

Writer: Gülistan Acet, Ferit Karahan

Starring: Samet Yıldız, Ekin Koç, Mahir İpek, Melih Selçuk, Cansu Fırıncı, Nurullah Alaca

Year: 2021

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Turkey, Romania

Festivals:

BIFF 2021

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