Young Wrestlers (2016) | Berlinale 2016

February 16th, 2016
Author: Meredith Taylor


Director: Mete Gümürhan, Documentary; Netherlands/Turkey 2016, 89 min.

Dutch/Turkish director Mete Gümürhan uncovers the disciplined world of young wrestlers between the ages of seven and twelve, housed in a training school where most of them dream of success in Turkey’s Number One sport.

And this is no ordinary sport: the players douse themselves in olive oil – and children also take part in their own tournaments running alongside those of the adults. Apart from their rigorous training sessions, in and out of doors, the weighing procedures take most of the film’s 89 minute running time. Again and again, the boys face criticism either for eating too much (“no more coke and crisps”), or too little (“You have to eat two plates full from now on”.) In the morning, before school, the boys go to the mosque where they are reminded of their religious duties. The coaches are harsh: a boy of around ten is told “childhood is over”. Discouraged from showing pain the boys even fight with dislocation injuries. In the classroom, at RE, they are again reminded not to be weak, not to show their frailties. But on occasional visits, their parents underscore these spartan qualities. “You will have to become a man”, one mother tells her son. But one boy rebels, he is homesick and threatens to the throw himself out of the window. When the coach refuses to let him go, he argues cleverly “I will lose on purpose and then you will let me go”. The film ends on a rather downbeat note: five boys have been selected to fight in a tournament in a provincial capital, but only one of them is victorious. The losers are very self-critical, even naming friends who would have done better.

The doc is impressively shot by cinematographer Andre Jager, also working on his debut feature. Mete Gümürhan’s approach is non-judgemental and detached; audiences can form their own opinions of this unusual sport. YOUNG WRESTLERS is a study in how organised sport, competitiveness, religious rigor and rather outdated male values go together in forming a successful sportsperson and athlete. The gruelling training exercises, interesting only for hardcore fans of the sport, detract from the psychological warfare the boys are exposed to. This is an impressive documentary and an illuminating study of the national game that will appeal to sporty kids and teenagers but little appeal to mainstream audiences. AS



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