Indie writer/director Kemal Yildirim is no stranger to exploring challenging themes and visions on film, with his 2017 short Saudade and his 2012 feature Rose exploring isolation and loss. Yildirim’s hooks often dig deep into an individual experience, providing us with an uncomfortable and haunting film journey. These themes find a new voice with his latest picture, Wastelands, where Yildirim opts to build on his previous two works. Wastelands introduces us to Alice (Natasha Linton) a lonely and psychologically isolated woman whose daily life is wrapped in a menial cafe job and an obsessive sexual need to re-live her past relationships.
Alice’s grief, personal unhappiness and longing are coupled with a need for sexual freedom and escape as she teeters on the precipice between reality and fantasy. However, when her terminally ill father, Wilhelm (Sean Botha) suddenly requires her support, Alice finds herself transported back to an unresolved family pain. Here her coping mechanisms slowly fail as she takes the decision to allow her ex-partner back into her life.
Alice represents the lost souls who find it difficult to navigate a world they do not understand. Wastelands for me was a way to explore a fractured mind and broken parental bonds.
The family dynamics at play in Wastelands are challenging and ambiguous, as repressed emotions bubble to the surface. Here the power dynamics between a father and daughter suddenly change due to a destructive illness creating a devastating and dark narrative that may overwhelm some viewers. However, this also creates a rich exploration of the links between family, mental health and relationships, providing us with an unsettling yet important dissection of the family’s role in achieving adult stability.
I am an avid fan of what I call pure cinema. Films that use material as a way of exploring themes, thoughts, ideologies and nuanced ambiguity.
Equally, we find sexuality and sexual freedom wrapped into Alice’s journey, her only escape from the mental prison surrounding her held in the brief respite of sensual joy. Here Yildirim plays with themes long associated with 70s folk horror, where sexuality and physical pleasure, internal conflict, repression and violence interplay. However, this does not mean Wastelands entirely inhabits the horror genre, often taking a far more psychological road in the tension it builds. Here Yildirim’s belief in pure cinema is evident throughout Wastelands, creating an impressionist style that at points risks alienating the viewer with its tonal ambiguity. However, for those who enjoy being challenged by film and are comfortable with artistic purism, Wastelands offers a fascinating exploration of mental health.
Director: Kemal Yildirim
Cast: Natasha Linton, Kemal Yildirim, Sean Botha