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ZAGREB 2018

Review: Never Leave Me

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- In her fourth mosaic-like feature film, Aida Begić follows the lives of young Syrian refugees, all orphans, as they wander the streets of a Turkish city

Review: Never Leave Me
Motaz Faez Basha, Ahmad Husrom and Isa Demlakhi in Never Leave Me

Aida Begić's filmography seems to gently flit between Bosnia and Turkey. After Snow [+see also:
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trailer
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]
, which took place in a Bosnian village, the collective film Do Not Forget Me Istanbul, and Children of Sarajevo [+see also:
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– winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 2012 – her fourth feature film, Never Leave Me [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, brings her back to Turkey, where small Syrian refugees are living in a foster home and skipping school in order to "survive" (as one of them puts it) on the streets, thanks to their resourcefulness. Bosnia's official Oscar nominee and recently awarded the Dialogue Prize for Intercultural Communication at Cottbus, the film was nominated at Zagreb Film Festival in the Together Again section.

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The film has all the signs of a Begić feature: neat photography, often childlike, a certain way of moving through alleyways and indisputable good intentions– we are reminded at the end of the feature that it was actually inspired by true stories, that the children in the film are played by real refugees and that the film is dedicated to the five million children, including 600,000 orphans, who represent the numerous Syrian exiles.

The film begins, after a stretch of road on a deserted path, with the burial of young Isa's mother, who is only 14 years old, and we watch as he stands alone, among adults, as if they existed in two different worlds. We then follow him to a foster home, tenderly held by two maternal figures, where he bonds with other children in similar situations, leading – during the day instead of going to school, and sometimes at night while on the run – a parallel life consisting of resourcefulness, in which everyone is guided by their own touching personal dream (because these children cease to exist as just statistics in this film): buy a dove, participate in a talent contest, convince their mum to come get them... Through this touching assemblage, full of innocence and imagination, we witness their abandonment, the importance of money in their lives, but also the vitality of these children, who are not so different from us, beyond their heart-breaking situations, as revisited by a little boy, who sobs, at the end of the film.

We are also guided in our observation of the world's range of attitudes towards them, in a place where they are superfluous, negligible or even exploitable, especially in a scene in which they sell handkerchiefs on the sly, which illustrates the fact that when faced with numerous kids like them, the locals seem immune to any sort of tenderness or compassion. Alas, despite the boy's tears being very touching and the affectionate narration of the stories of these resourceful kids, we are not entirely taken in by their situation, which lacks a central axis that would serve to emphasise the film’s meaning and emotional impact. The film, although well-made and well-intentioned, certainly doesn’t fall into the trap of becoming a tearjerker, but also leaves us feeling as impassive as its last image, sunny yet immobile and empty, which is slightly irksome.

Never Leave Me is a Bosnian, Herzegovinian, Turkish and Serbian co-production with Beşir Derneği and Film House Sarajevo, which is also handling international sales.

(Translated from French)

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