Before Your Eyes (2009)

Director: Miraz Bezar
Writers: Miraz Bezar and Evrim Alatas (collaborator)
Cast: Senay Orak, Muhammed Al and Hakan Karsak
Rated: Not Rated (violence)
Film is distributed by Film Movement | IMDb/trailer

aka Min Dit: The Children of Diyarbakir

There are a lot of films out there based on the turmoil in the Middle East. I’ll admit, I haven’t seen too many of them, but those I have were deeply effective and more often than not, quite tragic. What many Middle Eastern countries and villages face on a daily basis is unfathomable to me. It’s no surprise that movies have been such a powerful outlet for those that face these constant threats and struggles. Before Your Eyes is one such example of what I can only assume a realistic tale of a family caught in the cross hairs of oppression.

The film takes place in Diyarbakir in Turkish Kurdistan in the early 90’s. This is a place that I haven’t even heard of prior to viewing this film (I assume this is true for many of my fellow countrymen as well), but from what I understand Before Your Eyes paints a fairly accurate portrait of it (in fact, according to the director, it’s probably worse in real life). At the beginning of the film we’re introduced to a seemingly normal and happy family. It’s hinted at that the father writes for a newspaper that covers mysterious killings and disappearances in the area. We also are introduced to Aunt Yakbun, who asks the father to take in a young man for a few days. After a wedding celebration, the family is pulled over at a road block. What seemed to be a routine stop turns into the brutal, heartless murder of the parents, leaving two small children and an infant as orphans.

Aunt Yakbun cares for the children until she has to leave to get transport tickets for the children to flee to Sweden. She never returns. The following scenes are hard to watch, let alone hard to even imagine. The oldest, a girl named Gülîstan, can’t be older than 10. She does more talking through her eyes than she does her voice. I can’t help but wonder if actress Senay Orak has experienced great loss herself as she makes the viewer just want to reach through the television and hug her in every scene she’s in.

Before Your Eyes movie review

We see the siblings bravely make every effort to care for each other and the little one at any cost. No matter how hard they try, they meet nothing but loss and are greeted with no compassion by the adults they come into contact with. Gülîstan and brother Firat wind up meeting Zelal and her brother Mîkaîl, who live with their aging grandpa. They also have a pretty tragic backstory of their own, which gives us the impression that tragedy is part of every day life in Diyarbakir. The youngsters support each other while earning pocket change on the streets and start to gain feelings of a family.

Gülîstan also meets up with a young woman, Dilan, again with a seemingly rough life of her own. Dilan is an escort who forms a bond with Gülîstan. It’s on one fateful day that Gülîstan accompanies Dilan to meet with a client. The client turns out to be the murderer of her parents. What do you do when you see the person that you saw gun down your parents right before your eyes? For many of us, it’s something that never comes into our thoughts. For someone like Gülîstan, it’s something all too real that turns her world upside down.

There are a lot of characters and sub-plots going on. While I did find myself a slightly confused at times (either due to the film’s pacing or my unfamiliarity with the culture), the child actors in the film really made it work for me as they were truly remarkable. They often made me forget I was watching a film and made me feel as if I were observing these poor children struggling to get by. The film does a good job portraying the children without simply just trying to make us feel sorry for them though. The courage and perseverance they demonstrate is something that most of us Westerners can only hope to have when facing any kind of hardship. The on-location filming also really adds to the film’s overall effectiveness. We’re really put smack in the middle of a diverse and beautiful city that has sadly seen great devastation.

The film may sound like a series of nothing but tragic events, and while it often is, it has its little hopeful and touching moments. However, it stays consistent with its realistic tone. What happens in this film is all too real and is not sugar-coated or sensationalized here. Before Your Eyes is a brutally honest and tragic tale with scenarios that are likely common with many around the world but not often spoken of. This film struck something powerful with me. It’s a very well crafted film that sheds light on an area of the world that many easily ignore. It’s not about politics or religion, but simply humanity. I believe that movies have the power to make an impact on world events, which is why movies like this really need to be out there.