Atlanta Film Festival 2022: Breakwater

Directed by: Cem Demirer
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

In many ways, the Turkish film “Breakwater” resembles the ocean on which much of it takes place: sometimes calm, sometimes violent, always beautiful as it follows the cousins Aslan (Alihan Kaya) and Yilmaz (Baris Yilmaz Gunduz). The two make a living as fisherman on a Turkish island, where Yilmaz seems well-respected but Aslan is always the butt of the joke, putting honey on his bald spot because his friends told him it would help his hair grow back and taking pictures for an Instagram influencer who forces Aslan to carry everything because the influencer’s legs are still recovering from his latest workout. Their lives are repetitive, but neither of them can change their course, and so Yilmaz broods while Aslan fantasizes about drowning the island and everyone on it.

But Aslan, simple as he may seem, has a few tricks up his sleeve: he has found a cave full of lobsters and instead of telling his cousin and the others who work the fishing boat with them, Aslan has kept the veritable goldmine for himself. When Yilmaz finds out, paranoia sets in for both him and Aslan, who fears retribution. This paranoia coincides with both men’s struggle with masculinity—Aslan and his baldness and the way everyone laughs at him, Yilmaz because his wife has been gone for months and he has been unable to win her back, and his inability to keep his woman makes him weak, at least in the eyes of the men around him. Demirer keeps a masterful hold on the tone as Yilmaz spirals and Aslan hardens, creating an atmosphere that keeps the attention while never getting too flashy or bold.

But their impotence stays impotent, boiling over in sharp bursts and underhanded sabotage but never really exploding as the film takes a restrained approach to its plot. Both Kaya and Gunduz deliver absolutely tremendous performances as their hatred of each other, their lives, and themselves takes over. It takes skilled actors to make an understated script like that of “Breakwater” to remain engaging, but Kaya and Gunduz manage with ease even acting across the many nonactors that director Cem Demirer employs, and they are nothing short of remarkable.

Though the plot may be somewhat muted, the colors in “Breakwater” are not. Cinematographer Sebastian Lojo finds beauty in every nook and cranny of the island, even in exhaust from a car pipe that swirls around a lonely Yilmaz as he gazes up at a room he cannot enter. Aslan stands at the top of the city and the matches he lights flare against the night sky before getting swept away by the wind, Yilmaz has a shame-induced dream of his wife that slowly gets overtaken by red, lending an unearthly quality to what could otherwise be a bit of a bore—Demirer writes well, but the story unfurls slowly, and sometimes under-explains some of its goings-on, but Demirer’s direction of his own script and Lojo’s exquisite visuals elevate “Breakwater” into something more and well worth your patience.

“Breakwater” Trailer

“Breakwater” played as part of the 2022 Atlanta Film Festival.

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