Yusef is a Turkish gravedigger working in Queens, struggling to make ends meet and care for his 11-year-old daughter Renk. His job and life are made more complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is raging in New York City, and the number of graves he must dig has increased exponentially.
The pandemic becomes personal when his wife contracts COVID-19 and passes away in the hospital. Consumed with guilt over his wife’s death, Yusuf withholds the truth from Renk. But the weight of the truth is unbearable, and it soon forces a reckoning between Yusuf and his daughter.
Written by Mustafa Kaymak and directed by Scott Aharoni and Dennis Latos, this powerful Oscar-qualified drama uses the pandemic as the backdrop of a story exploring the ravages of grief, denial and worldwide trauma. The emotional and mental impacts of the pandemic inform the characters and conflict, heightening the tension and intensifying the stakes. But the excellent writing and direction laser in on the frayed relationship between a father and daughter facing a terrible loss, and Yusuf must face this truth to be the father that Renk needs.
Shot with naturalistic, handheld camerawork and featuring moving performances by actors Nadir Saribacak and Isabella Haddock, the film has an intimacy that burrows deep inside the emotional landscape of these characters, made all the more compelling for its quiet yet piercing storytelling. “Leylak” is dedicated to the lost ones, loved ones and essential and frontline workers of the pandemic, and is a profound contribution to the growing number of stories that explore the emotional impact of the pandemic. But the film sears itself into the heart for its indelible portrait of familial love and resilience, even in the face of unbearable loss and hardship.