Judge Bill Gibron thoroughly enjoyed this quiet, considered character study.
Characters to care about.
How some people come to their lot in life says more about the past than it does the present. Coping can be tough, but it's also far more indicative of who you are versus the sometimes ancillary reason you're in trouble or turmoil in the first place. Indeed, for the characters in Pelin Esmer's excellent Watchtower, learning the truth about carpenter turned fire warden Nihat (Olgun Simsek) and college student turned bus hostess Seher (Nilay Erdonmez) represents our window into their world. It's also the only journey this movie takes. It strives for an universality in suffering, and ends up delivering a lesson in just living. Some may find it slow and uninvolving. Others, who get past the initial notion of where they are headed will discover a wealth of human wonders within.
The setup is simple. Nihat has left society as a carpenter for his isolated new job (he lives in the title entity, reporting on potential forest fires from his lofty vantage point) because of what happened to his wife and child. He is devastated, left emptied out and hollow. Seher, who has left university and cut herself off from her parents, now lives in a dingy room in the bus depot as a peculiar personal punishment over what happened at the hands of her uncle. It's a disgusting reality—therefore, the seemingly seamy living conditions. Turns out, Nihat blames himself for the car accident that causes the death of his family. For her part, Seher can't quite understand why she must carry the seed of her relative's awful misdeeds. While he collects wood and builds things, she struggles to find a way to survive.
They both come together and share their stories, leading us to a moment when we realize that the old adage about misery loving company may be correct. Indeed, what is most remarkable about Esmer's film is how far thinking it is. This is a movie without easy answers. There's no pat resolution, no feel good moment when we realize everything will be hunky dory. Instead, this is a film about feelings, about understanding the pain that's going on inside while equally engaging in the length process that comes with healing. We are never quite sure if Nihat and Seher will be "OK," but we get the impression that, unlike the individuals taking drugs and trying to act "normal," their unique attempts at therapy may actually yield some benefits. He needs the isolation. She needs the non-judgmental confirmation. Together, they seem capable of change. It is only together, however, where such a strategy might work. The result is a movie of stunning depth and emotional power.
As they do with most of their releases, Film Movement delivers a desirable DVD experience for Watchtower. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is excellent, showcasing the gorgeous Turkish landscapes with lush believability. There is also a downside to such a digital dynamic, as some of the squalor our duo have to contend with is equally illustrated. The soundtrack is available in a 5.1 and 2.0 mix and neither are reference quality. Instead, they are clean and competent. As for extras, we get bios and trailers, as well as a short film entitled The Foreigner. A student film made in 2012 by Alethea C Avramis while she was at UCLA, it focuses on a small Greek village that's desperate to maintain the minimal population required for state benefits. When a young Englishman arrives, the town goes out of its way to make him feel at home. It's equally as good as the far more somber Watchtower.
For many, character studies are a chore. Unless the people are compelling, the narrative never amounts to much. Luckily, Watchtower works precisely because Ms. Esmer draws two very identifiable and sympathetic individuals. The result is more than a mere study. It's a story unto itself.
Not guilty. A fine foreign gem.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
• Short Film
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