Until I Lose My Breath
Until I Lose My Breath, the debut feature from Turkish writer/director Emine Emel Balci, gives a grey and grim view of Istabul, seen through the eyes of Serap (Esme Madra), a morose teenage girl with the weight of the world and dreams of independence on her shoulders.
Serap, our teenage anti-heroine, works long hours in a textile sweatshop. She’s desperately trying to make enough money to get her own flat in which to live with her father – a long distance lorry driver who pops by occasionally and appears to have little care for his daughters’ situation and welfare.
We learn that Serap spent time in an orphanage following her mother’s death and now lives with her sister and brutish brother-in-law whose only concern is the month’s rent. Pale and thin with sunken tired eyes, she seems old before her time, the responsibility of trying to secure the basic things in life taking their toll and leaving little time for usual teenage frolics.
It’s a lonely life for a young woman in her situation and the story does little lighten the load for the protagonist or for us and it’s perhaps the lack of respite that prevents this film from ever fully engaging. Men are portrayed negatively – maybe Balci is trying to make a point – but doesn’t help add texture or diversity. It feels a little repetitive; it really is very grey and Madra’s repressed performance lacks the depth and texture that is needed to give the story a much needed oomph.
The hand-held camera shot of the back of the head as we follow our protagonist gives a sense of doom from the start, a feeling that things are only going to get worse for the youngster. It puts us very much in the gritty, tension-filled, working-class drama of the Dardenner genre, but this film lacks the shock and confrontation of its predecessors and now seems a little worn. The incredibly sparse text, elongated scenes squeezing out more character turmoil and an overall joylessness make it hard watching and don’t perhaps make the impact that the film, in subject matter, is trying to convey.
Until I Lose My Breath has its heart in the right place and is obviously important in terms of opening up the difficulties of inner-city life to a wider audience, but it feels like the daily grind it’s trying to reflect has been ground into it a little too much.
Until I Lose My Breath does not yet have a UK release date.
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