AKA: Min Dit: The Children of Diyarbakir, Min Dit, Ben Gordum, I Saw
Year Released: 2009
Distributor: Film Movement
Running Time: 102 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG-13
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The Colors of the Mountain, The Trap, Theeb, Grave of the Fireflies
-This is the first Turkish film to use the Kurdish language.
-All the actors are non-professional. Not only that, but several of the actors were from the Diyarbakir area and lived through some of the experiences portrayed in the film.
-Diyarbakir is the 12th largest city in Turkey with a population of 930,000 people.
-This was a fully independent film and never received a distributor in director Miraz Bezar’s native Turkey.
-At the 29th International Istanbul Film Festival, this won 3 awards: Best Director, Best Actress Award, and Best Music Award.
Movies are way too safe. Even the biggest Oscar Bait films feel so contrived to me and deliver safe storylines that won’t offend anyone or try anything new. Let’s see them try incorporating a story of sordid realism regardless if it’s from their home country or not.
I had heard of Before Your Eyes, and I won a contest from Film Movement years ago where I got a DVD of this Turkish film. It sat on my shelf since I was so busy back then with work and other projects, so after the longest time, I finally had the chance to see it and I’m so grateful I saw this.
Before Your Eyes is about the lives of Kurdish siblings living in Diyarbakir. There’s Gulistan, who’s the eldest child, Firat, her younger brother, and their baby sister Dilovan. They’re living life in this city and their whole family visit’s a relative’s wedding. Then on one fateful day when they were driving in Batman (the Turkish city, not the superhero) towards their hometown, some Turkish paramilitary officers stop them because of a bad headlight and low tires only for both parents to be murdered in front of the children. Their aunt is trying to get them tickets to go to Sweden, but she’s eventually missing. The newly orphaned children have to survive by themselves in their tiny apartment and eventually the street after selling almost everything they own.
This was a really powerful story that will tug at your heartstrings. The poverty and racial discrimination is portrayed in all it’s darkness. When it’s just the three children living in the apartment, you can see their rooms get emptier and emptier as they sell stuff just to get food to eat. The tragedy happens in both subtle and overt ways as one sees the implications of them living in abject poverty which doesn’t feel as overdramatic like Slumdog Millionaire. They even sleep on cardboard pieces in an abandoned building after leaving the apartment complex, for crying out loud. It’s a situation that I can believe even without knowing the history of Diyarbakir or the region in Eastern Turkey where the city is located that’s also known as Turkish Kurdistan.
Gulistan is a really strong lead with how she tries to take care of her siblings. Her facial expressions when she witnesses her parent’s murderer are just heart-wrenching. She may be resilient, but she’s also vulnerable as she cries when taking care of her baby sister Dilovan. Senay Orak did a phenomenal job in playing this character and she needs to get an acting career right now. Firat is the precocious younger brother who can be absent-minded, but he does care about his family. Seeing the desperation in his face when he’s trying to get medicine or trying to peddle cheap goods to passersby was quite intense. The scene where he sees the killer again while he’s trying to sell lighters should have gotten him an Oscar had this film have been nominated the year it was released. You don’t just see their emotions about trying to survive in impoverished Diyarbakir. You FEEL it.
The lead villain that kills the parents named Nuri Kaya is quite a complex antagonist. They could have made him this typical brutal cop/soldier which still shows, but he’s more developed than that. His hatred for the Kurds is shown and not mentioned in subtle ways. He doesn’t even recognize Gulistan and Firat after murdering their parents which makes him a lot colder if you really think about it. Nuri is also a villain with good publicity as everyone in the neighborhood seems to love him. He also has a fascinating relationship with his wife and son. Nuri acts all lovey-dovey to his wife only to see a prostitute later on in the film behind her back. He’s also really loving to his son named Bora who he comforts while he’s sick and likes hanging out with him to watch soccer games. However, the thing that really caught my eye about Nuri was the deliciously ironic nickname he gives Bora. Three times in the movie, he calls him “[his] Lion King”. This is something that I found very intriguing for three reasons.
1: This name was given by same character who kills both protagonists’ parents. I mean, Scar only killed ONE parent in that movie.
2: Bora would be seen as the Simba to Nuri’s Mufasa by default.
3: The Mufasa comparison doesn’t end there. Nuri could see himself as that character while viewing the Kurdish population as hyenas that deserve to be punished at all costs. One can say that the Kurds don’t belong in Turkey’s circle of life in Nuri’s eyes.
I found this quite fascinating since that murderer is oblivious to his evil actions or at the very least justifying his killing, kidnapping, and torturing he does to other people.
The cinematography isn’t some high-budget project, but it didn’t need to be. The visual production is gritty and uses a lot of earth tones. The filming style reminded me of Jafar Panahi’s projects such as Offside or his short films with the neo-realistic aesthetics. There is some aliasing and some pixelation, but it was minor and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this tragic story that much. Truth be told, this film would look very disingenuous if this had a Spielberg-type budget, so the lower-budget filming was very competent and fits the themes of Before Your Eyes solidly.
The biggest turn off would be the sheer sadness and tragedy in this film. The parents being murdered is actually not the saddest part of the movie since some scenes are a lot harsher. There are children living in destitution, one of the kids is missing a hand, and there’s a scene where the police are dumping dead Kurdish bodies in a gorge. This will be a tough film for those only used to happy or optimistic films to digest. The parents’ death scene is extremely harsher in hindsight since it reminded me of the Philando Castille situation of being stopped for a bad car headlight only to be killed despite complying with the officers. That scene can be tough to watch. There’s even one death scene that I won’t spoil that will make you shed a tear. I won’t describe who it is, how it happens, or the aftermath, but if you don’t shed a tear or even feel an iota of sadness, then you aren’t human at all and shame on you! The ending while offering a glimmer of hope does involve a dark situation as the siblings try to find a better life. One thing that I also enjoyed about Before Your Eyes is the meta-narrative of the fairy tale their mom tells them. They have a tape recording of their mom reading the story. It opens with the line “Once upon a time, when God was great…” which is such a tragic opener given the events that occur in the film. The story deals with a wolf who’s terrorizing a local village and the villagers have to find a way to stop this threat. The wolf has parallels to Nuri Kaya without ever making it obvious and the villagers’ way of dealing with the wolf does slowly parallel with the eventual revenge plan in a subtle and abstract way that the viewer has to pay VERY close attention to it. This was one of the better story-within-a-story tropes I’ve seen in a long time.
Before Your Eyes is worth your time. Don’t make the same mistake I did by putting it off. This can open up a dialog when it comes to situations of homelessness, orphaned children, racial profiling, poverty, and other things that need to be addressed. However, this is a very tragic story that could be too much for some viewers. This is a bravely made movie in a country that has it’s own issues from a valiant Turkish Kurd director who wanted to shed light in this believable story. Could you imagine a film director here doing something like that about a situation in America? I can’t recommend this film enough. Make sure you give brave film a watch whenever you have the chance to.
Adjustable Point System
Subtract 2-3 points if you hate depressing movies
Subtract 1 point if you don’t want to see harsh subjects in movies
-Believable characters and character development
-Neo-realistic setting fits like a glove
-Can be extremely depressing
-Some pixelation and aliasing
-Some ambiguous elements especially a certain aspect of the ending
Final Score: 10/10 points
Content Warning: Teens and up. There’s some brief strong language involved especially with Nuri. Murder is used as a major plot point with the main character’s lives. There’s one major character in the 2nd half that helps the kids who is a part-time prostitute despite a sex scene being implied and not shown. There is a lot of adult subject matter portrayed like realistic poverty, ethnic profiling, police brutality, torture, and there’s a tertiary character who’s a child trafficker. One death scene is EXTREMELY tragic and isn’t for the fainthearted or the overly sensitive.
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