A Lifetime in Film 1989 #13: Don’t Let Them Shoot The Kite

Prolific Turkish filmmaker Tunç Basaran’s recent passing in late 2019 came as sad news for a film industry that is finally making a considerable mark on an international level. His 1989 film Don’t Let Them Shoot The Kite is a small drama that has quietly become a part of the zeitgeist of modern Turkish cinema and, therefore, one of the more notable films of 1989. Basaran is an unfamiliar filmmaker to me, as my knowledge of Turkish film doesn’t go much beyond the works of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose filmography is inspired mainly by classic Hollywood filmmaking. That’s not the case with Basaran. Kite is a women’s prison drama (an already unique setting for its time) centering around a young boy (Ozan Bilen) born to one of the prison inmates who stays in the prison until his mom finishes her term. His mom is mostly hands-off, but he finds a caretaker in Inci (Nur Sürer) – a much gentler, caring woman, who dwells on the past that led her there and dreams about what she’ll do when she gets out.

This is a sparse film. While there is some high drama as the women in the prison struggle with power dynamics, hopelessness, and the harsh discipline of the (humorously) strict and untrusting prison warden, Basaran frequently tries to bite off more than he can chew, both from a budgetary and filmmaking perspective. The actors are mostly well-directed, and the film’s setting does feel like a prison for the most part as well. Still, when it comes to the utilization of film techniques to make us feel something for these characters, Basaran mostly struggles to make things believable. There are points in the film, one involving a bird that has landed in the prison yard, another a shadow of a kite floating overhead, that could potentially work, but fail on a technical level. Basaran’s attempts at figurative melodrama are cut down by poorly timed editing and mismatched eye levels. It feels picky to notice these things in a film of such a low budget, but they did take me out of the scene.

It is worth noting though that the acting is fine. The women range from experienced actors in the leading roles to first time performers in the secondary ones. The young boy is played with naivete and honesty that is common to see in good child actors. Too bad the camera angles Basaran chooses do not give the performances justice. I think the film feels both slow (at a too-long 100 minutes) and rushed in its production. One aspect that works is the setting – a prison in the middle of the big city lends a feeling of being locked away in a bustling metropolis.

Overall, I think the film is fine for a one-time viewing. I liked the idea that the boy is learning about the outside world from the women prisoners. It’s an idea that brings both humor and tragedy. I wish Basaran had not rushed through the production, as many prolific filmmakers tend to do so that we could actually enjoy the small moments that may carry significant dramatic heft if they were better executed. C+

Next time I will be reviewing the Daniel Day-Lewis film My Left Foot! See you then!

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