An admirable film, both in intent and execution, but one which somehow never had the devastating impact on me it's tragic story would seem to deserve.
Part of a long line of films showing the incredible hardships kids who are orphaned and left to the streets face (e.g. 'Pixote') in this case there is a powerful political facet as well. A middle- class Kurdish journalist and his wife are gunned down in front of their young children (a boy, a girl and an infant) by Turkish paramilitary troops seemingly bent on silencing political opposition. The children are left to fend for themselves, ending up out on the street before long. They are ignored by most before finally settling in with some other street kids, and a prostitute who treats the young girl with kindness. This leads to a plot twist I won't give away here, but one with considerable punch.
So why wasn't I more blown away by this well-meaning film? I think it's because I felt a sense of slickness and manipulation. The film is shot with a certain reserve. Instead of hand-held camera, or a feeling of verite, there's a distance in the pretty, but almost Hollywood like cinematography. Unlike 'Pixote' or DeSica's best work, I could feel the strings being pulled, and so found my heart resisting. Also, while the 10 year old Senay Orak is truly amazing as the sister, much of the other acting in the film feels stiff and unnatural. I was always aware I was watching a movie, not real life.
I feel awful not loving the film more. It's heart is surely in the right place in bringing a tragic social and political situation to light. I wish it could have moved me to the tears it seemed trying so hard – too hard – to do. None-the-less, it's good enough that I would urge people to see it and judge for themselves.
The story line is poignant, as it is set in the troubled (and beautiful) Diyarbekir area of Turkey. This is one of the few movies in the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish (most Kurdish movies are in Sorani dialect) and it has English subtitles. The viewer is allowed to get a glimpse of Kurdish culture as well as the political troubles that beset this part of the world.
Let me state upfront that I am a big fan of the Film Movement library of indie and foreign films. I have see quite a few of their 120 releases over the last 10 years, but I still have quite a few to go as well. Fell upon this one recently at my local library's foreign movie section and picked it up blindly.
"Before Your Eyes" (2009 release from Turkish Kurdistan; original title "The Children of Diyarbakir"; released in the US in 2012; 101 min.) is set entirely in the city of Diyarbakir, in Turkish Kurdistan, where there is a lot of tension between local Kurds and Turkish forces. As the movie opens, we meet a local family consisting of mom, dad, and three children, a girl, 10, a boy, about 8, and a little baby. Everything seems to be going well. About a half-hour into the movie, as the family is driving back from a wedding, they are stopped for what appears to be a routine traffic check the local police (but in fact it is the secret state security force) and shockingly, the parents are murdered in cold blood in front of the children. The kids then come in the care of their aunt, who some time thereafter also disappers. How will the children take care of themselves? Can they find rescue with another family member? Why were their parents murdered? To tell you more of the plot would ruin your viewing experience, you'll just have to find out for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: first, I don't know what it's taken this long to get this movie released in the US, as this originally came out in 2009. But better late than never obviously. Second, viewer beware: this is not always an easy movie to watch, as the struggles encountered by the children are gut-wrenching at times. Last but not least, there are some outstanding performances in here, none more so than the 10 yr. old girl whose face is an open book of expressions and emotions. Bottom line, this movie is another winner in the ever-growing Film Movement catalog. If you are in the mood for a quality foreign movie that is MILES away from your standard Hollywood fare, "Before Your Eyes' is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
There are a lot of films out there based on the turmoil in the Middle East. I'll admit, I haven't seen too many of them, but those I have were deeply effective and more often than not, quite tragic. What many Middle Eastern countries and villages face on a daily basis is unfathomable to me. It's no surprise that movies have been such a powerful outlet for those that face these constant threats and struggles. Before Your Eyes is one such example of what I can only assume a realistic tale of a family caught in the cross hairs of oppression.
The film takes place in Diyarbakir in Turkish Kurdistan in the early 90's. This is a place that I haven't even heard of prior to viewing this film (I assume this is true for many of my fellow countrymen as well), but from what I understand Before Your Eyes paints a fairly accurate portrait of it (in fact, according to the director, it's probably worse in real life). At the beginning of the film we're introduced to a seemingly normal and happy family. It's hinted at that the father writes for a newspaper that covers mysterious killings and disappearances in the area. We also are introduced to Aunt Yakbun, who asks the father to take in a young man for a few days. After a wedding celebration, the family is pulled over at a road block. What seemed to be a routine stop turns into the brutal, heartless murder of the parents, leaving two small children and an infant as orphans.
Aunt Yakbun cares for the children until she has to leave to get transport tickets for the children to flee to Sweden. She never returns. The following scenes are hard to watch, let alone hard to even imagine. The oldest, a girl named Gülîstan, can't be older than 10. She does more talking through her eyes than she does her voice. I can't help but wonder if actress Senay Orak has experienced great loss herself as she makes the viewer just want to reach through the television and hug her in every scene she's in.
We see the siblings bravely make every effort to care for each other and the little one at any cost. No matter how hard they try, they meet nothing but loss and are greeted with no compassion by the adults they come into contact with. Gülîstan and brother Firat wind up meeting Zelal and her brother Mîkaîl, who live with their aging grandpa. They also have a pretty tragic backstory of their own, which gives us the impression that tragedy is part of every day life in Diyarbakir. The youngsters support each other while earning pocket change on the streets and start to gain feelings of a family.
Gülîstan also meets up with a young woman, Dilan, again with a seemingly rough life of her own. Dilan is an escort who forms a bond with Gülîstan. It's on one fateful day that Gülîstan accompanies Dilan to meet with a client. The client turns out to be the murderer of her parents. What do you do when you see the person that you saw gun down your parents right before your eyes? For many of us, it's something that never comes into our thoughts. For someone like Gülîstan, it's something all too real that turns her world upside down.
There are a lot of characters and sub-plots going on. While I did find myself a slightly confused at times (either due to the film's pacing or my unfamiliarity with the culture), the child actors in the film really made it work for me as they were truly remarkable. They often made me forget I was watching a film and made me feel as if I were observing these poor children struggling to get by. The film does a good job portraying the children without simply just trying to make us feel sorry for them though. The courage and perseverance they demonstrate is something that most of us Westerners can only hope to have when facing any kind of hardship. The on-location filming also really adds to the film's overall effectiveness. We're really put smack in the middle of a diverse and beautiful city that has sadly seen great devastation.
The film may sound like a series of nothing but tragic events, and while it often is, it has its little hopeful and touching moments. However, it stays consistent with its realistic tone. What happens in this film is all too real and is not sugar-coated or sensationalized here. Before Your Eyes is a brutally honest and tragic tale with scenarios that are likely common with many around the world but not often spoken of. This film struck something powerful with me. It's a very well crafted film that sheds light on an area of the world that many easily ignore. It's not about politics or religion, but simply humanity. I believe that movies have the power to make an impact on world events, which is why movies like this really need to be out there. Source: criticnic.com 4-April-2012 Disclosure: Film sent by Film Movement
I say this movie yesterday and it's impossible to convey my feelings in a few words. This is as real as it gets and is a visceral reminder of how lucky we are. I have to warn potential viewers, this is horrifying and gut wrenching at times though there is that one moment when one can say "there is justice in the world after all". I will also add that the lead character (Gulistan) is simply superb.