BFI London Film Festival presents Brother’s Keeper; book festival tickets here.
In a remote boarding school in the mountains of Eastern Anatolia, Turkey, a group of young Kurdish boys cue for their daily shower as the snow falls outside. The vast shower block is sterile and cold as they patiently wait to share a small cubicle, the noise of water, conversation and feet on tiles echoing around the room as a single young prefect attempts to keep order. Meanwhile, around the corner, a teacher stands, the cost of the hot water his only concern. It is not long before an argument over access to water breaks out in one of the cubicles, where young Memo (Nurullah Alaca) complains about a lack of water to wash the soap from his eyes. Had Memo known this simple gripe would lead to a cold water punishment, he would have probably stayed silent. As now, the boys pour pales of icy water over each other, and as Memo arrives at the bedroom, he shares with his best friend Yusuf (Samet Yildiz) he is shivering and unable to keep warm.
The following day as the boys prepare for school, Memo complains of feeling ill, his body weak, and his head thumping with pain. But nobody pays Memo any attention as Yusef carries him to the school’s sparse and ill-equipped medical room. As Memo lies silent, his breathing shallow, the snow falls, and the temperature drops, causing the heating to fail, and Yusef becomes the boy’s sole carer.
Kurdish director Ferit Karahan’s portrait of negligence, abuse and trauma explores an educational prison of no escape as we witness the horror of neglect and state control. Over 84 minutes, Karahan uncovers the ongoing oppression of Kurdish communities in Turkey and the oppressive school system that treats Kurds as third-class citizens. Here Yusef’s trials and tribulations reflect a world where this oppression is routinely ignored. Türksoy Gölebeyi’s stunning cinematography turns the school into a juvenile prison through the ever-deepening snow, subdued colour palette and the tight Academy ratio. At the same time, performances are incredible in both depth and realism, particularly from young Yildiz and Alaca.
As we begin to lose hope, the failures of the school’s oppressive system slowly unravel with each incompetent teacher and every dangerous and negligent decision. However, it is not until the final fifteen minutes that Brother’s Keeper finally allows us to uncover the whole devastating truth behind Memo’s condition and Yusef’s need to protect him at all costs.
BIG BOYS DON’T CRY