Leylak is a devastatingly delicate short film rife with raw emotion and astounding performances from Nadir Saribacak and Isabella Haddock. You are left to remember that it is okay to feel the pain you feel this period and that perhaps you do not need to go through it alone.
In present-day Queens, New York, a Turkish gravedigger Yusuf (Nadir Saribacak) cannot face a shattering truth and risks losing the dearest connection left in his life.
Opening the film with one long take of Yusuf working at the gravesite, we see how utterly desperate the situation is in New York. The site itself is filled with rubble and not what you would expect from a cemetery in a typical case in such a city. So desolate is this scene that if not for this pandemic, you would slot it right into a post-apocalyptic movie. Where the newest coffin arrives with no family to bury the deceased, your heart sinks. During this pandemic, people have not had that chance to say goodbye to a loved one, to give them the send-off that they truly deserve. But to see an example of it as raw as we see here in Leylak rocks you.
Co-directors Scott Aharoni and Dennis Latos have made a special film here in Leylak and, in such a short amount of runtime, have shown the wonderful power that cinema has on us all. So much goes on within the film that you wonder if the points made will get slightly lost in the shuffle of it all. However, there is never a real worry with such talented filmmakers as we have here. There are so many moments in the film to comment on that you could go on for an age, the small looks of pure love from a father to a daughter. The pain of keeping the truth from her, the agony of not getting the chance to mourn how you want to in such a terrible moment in time and so on.
This simple and immediate story carries a heavyweight from the opening shot to its final heartbreaking one. While the world tries to open back up again after another wave from the virus, we should never forget these moments; they should shape us, and our co-directors have resolutely made sure that has happened with their film.
Nadir Saribacak is sensational as the emotionally troubled gravedigger, stuck in a limbo of a mental state; he is helpless to the fact that he (like everyone in this pandemic) cannot give himself that ounce of forgiveness that he needs. As such, he pushes away the one person he needs to be supporting. Though he wears a mask for most of the film, the acting with his eyes and the small gestures he makes is profound. The moments like fixing the flowers that have fallen off a fresh grave and sweeping away loose soil and rocks to keep the grave respectable tell you more about the man than any lengthy monologue could ever.
We see this prideful man struggle; pain does that to any person, no matter what walls they have built up to protect themselves; eventually, it will come tumbling down. You even get the feeling that Yusuf knows this fact, that his world is crumbling, and his fragile mental state is one bash away from pushing away his daughter Renk (Isabella Haddock). He loves her with all of his heart and soul, though misguidedly thinks that keeping her away from the pain he is feeling with help her. He forgets that she is her own person and of an age where she understands far more than she lets on and that she also needs to take this journey with him, even if it is just as painful.
Haddock should also get plaudits here as she is crucial to the father-daughter dynamic working as well as it does here. By the time we reach the final scene, she finally lets her emotions come forth about what they are about to do. The acceptance of it beside her father is just another of multiple moments of pain the audience receives in Leylak. This should be a tremendous jumping point for her career.
There are short films that you often wish were longer, so you can experience that world for just a bit longer with Leylak. However, it is quite possibly the perfect length; it says all it needs to in those 16 minutes that it would be needless to have it any longer, just utterly paced and developed to perfection. The clarity of the director’s intentions in the film is for all to see and for it to continually affect the viewer in the way that it does is quite telling of their capabilities as filmmakers.
A superb dedication to those lesser-known front line workers who risk their health, Leylak reminds us all of the pain we go through with each loss and that love is there. It has to be there for us even to attempt to move forward – a timely and important short film.
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