In Australia it is cricket, in Canada ice hockey, in Spain bullfighting and in Turkey the national sport is wrestling. In “Young Wrestlers”, the directorial debut of Mete Gümürhan, born in 1975 in Rotterdam, we get a beautiful and moving picture of a group of teenage boys attending the Boarding Wrestling Training Center in Amaysa in North-Central Anatolia. They follow regular education (before the lessons they have a discussion about whether they have two hours of English or two hours of math), but also have to train a lot and hard for the upcoming championships. They are closely monitored by the trainer, does their weight still match their height? He imposes sanctions on them, one is forbidden to eat chips and cola, the other has to eat fewer sandwiches, yet another kid has to eat double portions.
The fact that the boys have a common goal is clearly a unifying factor. At that boarding school you get the feeling that Hogwarts or that boarding school from Enid Blyton’s books is also propagating. There is a lot of solidarity, being there for each other, but also mutual teasing and of course rivalry; because the training does not only consist of a wrestling match with your classmate, but the coach also regularly asks them to do slightly more push-ups than the other. Gümürhan sits close to the boys, follows them from the shower rooms until they go to sleep, and is present at all the ups and downs. From corrective changes during training to taking a loss in a match. Sometimes that is touching, like when a homesick boy says in tears that he will lose on purpose so he can finally go home. And at other times it is disturbing, such as with Beytullah’s inexplicable nosebleeds (but luckily it ends well).
The camerawork is perfectly fine, with beautiful pictures of the surroundings and images of the boys who are completely unaware of the lens that is aimed at them that that alone is worth a compliment to the crew. Being able to create such a bond of trust and then get this result, that’s great. “Young Wrestlers” deserves a large audience. Fascinating for young and old, whether you do sports yourself or not. Blood, sweat and tears under the hot Turkish sun, but so universal that it will appeal to many viewers.