Film Movement DVD Review: Watchtower (2012)

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Two strangers whose lives are both as seemingly transient and temporary as the places they work (at a bus station and fire warden’s mountaintop watchtower respectively) intersect in this contemplative character drama by award-winning Turkish documentarian turned narrative feature writer/director Pelin Esmer.

A slow-moving yet soulful Film Movement release that focuses on how the film’s two characters live with two life-altering tragedies of the past, while it takes awhile to understand just who exactly our main characters are and where they’re coming from, its situations are never forced as the secrets the two have are revealed very subtly – through careful angles and dialogues that helps draw you into their plight.

Almost silent at times, Watchtower uses the cinematic medium beautifully to depict the way that the middle-aged fire warden and the lonely university dropout turned bus depot worker don’t exactly fit in with their surroundings.

And this is perhaps most effective in one of the movie’s earliest scenes that captures the middle-aged warden Nihat walking around the mountaintop cabin’s wrap around deck. While he is outside the cabin, the camera films him from inside the home looking out as if to say he doesn’t feel at ease in a “home” environment. Of course, this along with what we can conclude about the way that he changes the subject, evades or downright avoids conversation and the sound of the radio at times when other wardens call to check in is all subjective.

And indeed in Watchtower, we’re left to infer an awful lot before some answers and a firmer back-story begin to take shape.

But once the man finally finds himself at the right place at the right time, he intervenes on behalf of the young woman’s fate, offering her shelter before he too fully understands the full story of his new friend, Seher.

And while it seems like the two damaged souls can sense a kindred spirit in one another, the actual payoff of their relationship together as opposed to apart occurs so abruptly that if you blink you could literally miss an ending that in all honesty, may have worked much better on the screenwritten page than in Esmer’s feature film.

While fortunately the cinematography is a high point of Watchtower along with the heightened, near neorealist style naturalist performances and approach, unfortunately aside from the need for these two to heal (which again is barely paid off on in the picture), there’s isn’t very much holding this story together from a narrative standpoint that makes it at all worthwhile.

And while a manufactured plotline is unnecessary as there have been numerous successful films about people coming together on a human level, unfortunately, Watchtower isn’t one of them.

While I do applaud Esmer’s defiance in the face of contrivance as she avoids going down the tried-and-true path of Garden State or Lost in Translation, the theme that she’s exploring of lonely outsiders with tragic pasts is not a new one particularly in Film Movement where this subgenre of film has been done so much better in countless official selections in years past.

Despite this, Esmer shows immense promise as a Wenders or Malick inspired visual storyteller and her collaboration with her cinematographer and editor makes Watchtower worth watching from a film purist standpoint alone as she uses color and production design to illustrate the emotional progression of the tale immensely well.

While the picture is undoubtedly in desperate need of a stronger narrative to better serve her talented lead actors, fortunately for Esmer, her well-cast leads (including Nilay Erdonmez and Olgun Simsek as Seher and Nihat) know how to hold down the fort and keep watch even when Watchtower itself starts to lose focus.

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