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Watchtower DVD Review

Watchtower (2012) DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Watchtower (Gφzetleme kulesi)

Turkish Theatrical Release: November 16, 2012 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Director: Pelin Esmer

Cast: Olgun Simsek (Nihat), Nilay Erdonmez (Seher), Menderes Samancilar (The Boss), Kadir Cermik (The Driver), Lacin Ceylan (The Mother), Riza Akin (The Father), Mehmet Bozdogan (The Chief), Mehmet Mola (The Cook), Metehan (The Baby)

1.85.1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (Turkish), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (Turkish)
Subtitles: English / Movie Closed Captioned / Foreign Extras Subtitled
DVD Release Date: February 18, 2014 (Film-of-the-Month Club Debut: October 2013)
Suggested Retail Price: $24.95 / Clear Keepcase / Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

Buy Watchtower from Amazon.com: DVD • Instant Video

The second narrative film of Turkish documentarian Pelin Esmer,
Watchtower offers a look at the lives of two lonely strangers.

Nihat (Olgun Simsek) is a middle-aged man who begins working in Dipsizgol as a watchtower guard. He moves into a remote, idyllic workplace overlooking the forest to spot any fires should they start. They almost never do, which limits his job to brief, regularly scheduled two-way radio check-ins to report normalcy. That seems to suit Nihat, a man of few words, just fine. A carpenter by trade, he occupies himself during his abundant free time collecting wood and carving it into wheelbarrows, sculptures and such.

Seher (Nilay Erdonmez) is a pretty, solemn young woman working as hostess on a coach bus. She has curiously left the university where she was studying literature for this menial job with unreliable pay that finds her living modestly in a dumpy room at the bus depot and washing her underwear in an outdoor sink. She rarely checks in with her parents back in Bolu.

In the 2012 Turkish drama "Watchtower", new guard Nihat (Olgun Simsek) looks over Dipsizgol's forests for fire prevention.

Both Nihat and Seher are hiding pain. Nihat still feels guilt over the car accident that claimed the lives of his wife and young son with him at the wheel. Seher, meanwhile, has been hiding a baby bump. The illegitimate child is the spawn of her unseen uncle, an incident that explains the young woman's distance from her family, abandonment of her education, and general glumness.

The paths of the two loners cross, not romantically but intimately, brought together by shared knowledge of the independently delivered and initially abandoned child.

College dropout Seher (Nilay Erdonmez) informs those in the Tosya depot their bus will departing shortly in the Turkish film "Watchtower."

A compelling drama, Watchtower earns our full investment in these two individuals whose understandable gloom is slowly and sensitively explained. Both lead actors are up to the film's dramatic challenges. Veteran Simsek earns our sympathy with little dialogue, conveying his pain in his slow responses and occasional non-response to his work communication line.
Erdonmez, appearing in just her second film according to IMDb's seemingly lacking Turkish listings, holds impressive command over the screen and performs while evidently (or recently) pregnant, with the stomach and breast milk to prove it. (One assumes that the child she breastfeeds onscreen is her own.)

Esmer hooks us with sensible storytelling, wherein the characters are the story, and savory serene atmosphere. Some won't appreciate the open ending, but I'm guessing those aren't the types of people who will even see this film.

Well after its premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and fall Turkish theatrical release the same year, Watchtower reached Region 1 DVD last October through Film Movement's Film-of-the-Month Club. With the film still having only played the occasional festival outside of central Europe, that same disc hits general retail on Tuesday.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The DVD's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer offers very good, not quite great picture quality. The film is nicely shot, but owes much of its visual appeal to its scenic setting of hilly forest. The Turkish soundtrack is offered in both plain 2.0 stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1. The former is chosen by default, so those with home theaters will want to change that. The 5.1 mix is rather serene and unremarkable. It's certainly quieter than the 2.0 mix too. The optional player-generated English subtitles are clean and grammatically flawless.

Enthusiastic quotes from the few US outlets who reviewed "Watchtower" feature in its trailer. In the short "The Foreigner", a Greek mayor (Manolos Sormainis) encourages hospitality for the sake of his small village's public services.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Film Movement's typically adequate slate of extras begins with a Bios & Trailers section.

This holds short biographies of writer/director Pelin Esmer and actor Olgun Simsek plus Watchtower's trailer (2:17).

The trailers page adds ads for Before Your Eyes, Storm, and How I Ended This Summer to the three disc-opening ones for In the Name Of, Key of Life, and The Deflowering of Eva van End.

For the customarily standout supplement, we get the bonus short film The Foreigner (16:42). A 2012 UCLA student film written and directed by Alethea C. Avramis, this fun and charming short is set in a small, secluded Greek village whose mayor (Manolos Sormainis) scrambles to raise the population back up to 35 to prevent its public services from being shut off. The widowed mayor encourages everyone to show hospitality to Eric (Philip Bretherton), an Englishman visiting the town. Presented in a mix of Greek and English, the short translates the former with burned-in subtitles.

"About Film Movement" adds a page explaining the company's Film-of-the-Month club and also letting you watch the disc-opening promo for it.

The menu plays sounds of nature over clips from the film, with listings neatly placed over them in Film Movement's usual design.

As usual, Film Movement packages this in a clear keepcase and uses the reverse side of the cover art to display a couple of paragraphs explaining the film's selections and a couple more excerpting a filmmaker interview. For the latter, writer/director Esmer describes how the film and its two lead characters came about.

Nihat (Olgun Simsek) says little in his two-way radio conversations with his fellow watchtower guards. Seher (Nilay Erdonmez) has strong reservations about accepting Nihat's help.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Some will find Watchtower slow or challenging, but I thoroughly enjoyed this character study, which swept me up in the troubled lives it shares. It's a shame this Turkish drama seems resigned to obscurity. I encourage you to do your part to deny it (and the appealing short that accompanies it here) that undesirable fate.

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Reviewed February 13, 2014.



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