Karlovy Vary 2018: Tradition is Fatal in Turkish Drama ‘Brothers’

This review is by our guest writer, Redmond Bacon.

Tradition is meant to bind us together, but when those customs are based in violence, those binds can be a noose, choking us into a cycle of bloodshed. This is certainly the case in Turkish drama Brothers, which displays the devastating effects of living by ancient customs.

It starts with the seventeen-year-old Yusuf (Yiğit Ege Yazar) in a juvenile detention centre near the tail-end of his sentence. He is a quiet and brooding boy, with a constant chip on his shoulder. He seems always on the verge of anger, almost starting a fight over a mistimed football tackle. One day he is released on probation and picked up by his brother Ramazan (Caner Şahin), who believes a good way of celebrating is by buying him a prostitute. This pretty much sums up the perpetual misunderstanding between the two, who cannot find a way to truly relate to one another.

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Due to the shame his mother feels for him, he cannot stay at his family-run home, and is entrusted with helping his brother out at a family-run gas station/motel which is situated on a highway leading to Iran. The setting is perfect for capturing Yusuf’s state of mind. Caught between a life in prison (he’s on probation) and a life under the legal guardianship of his brother, it makes sense that Yusuf is stranded in the literal middle of nowhere. Likewise, the motel is constantly filmed either at night or at dusk, giving it an otherworldly feel. This purgatorial world is punctured by the presence of Yasemin (Gözde Mutluer) who, running away from home, finds herself having to stay there until an important bank transfer comes through.

A woman alone in these parts is a woman in danger, as Ramazan (a force of misogynist nature) ironically points out. Her introduction mirrors a deadly event that happened to the men in the past. Director Ömür Atay depicts this part of the world as one constructed upon violent misogyny, where it is up to the men to either perpetuate or break the cycle. It shows that while standing by your family feels like the right thing to do, it is far braver to follow your own morally right path, even if the consequences can be fatal.

Still, seeing as the film is about strict masculinity in crisis, it could’ve done more to round out Yasemin. She is seen more in relation to the men than as a character in her own right. While there are good narrative reasons to construct the story like this, it would’ve been far stronger if we learned a little bit more about her. Additionally, while toxic masculinity undoubtedly affects the mental psyche of men, this criticism would’ve been far more effective if it saw more keenly how it impacts women too. This half-hearted approach to thematic layering is reflected by the storyline itself, which meanders when it should be tighter, focusing more on mood then delivering an impactful tale.

Brothers finally ends on a note that is simultaneously sad and hopeful, forcing the viewer to think about why Yusuf has acted in such a way and what it may mean for him in the future. Atay deserves credit for the way he has reached this point, its only a shame that the movie couldn’t get there with a little more precision. Like its highway setting, it feels marooned between destinations, unable to find a more meaningful way out.

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