‘Don’t Leave’ Review: A Love Story for the Modern Age

Romance movies are always the same. The genre has been plagued for many decades with films that only follow one structure, one type of plot, and deliver only one message. These movies have become fodder in the age of streaming. Once you click play on one of them, you know exactly what you are going to receive. That sense of familiarity can feel comforting, but it also calls for repetition and even boredom. Very few movies try to break the mold and do something different. Don’t Leave, a new film on Netflix tries to do just that, be different.

Don’t Leave is a film directed by Ozan Açiktan and stars Burak Deniz, Dilan Çiçek Deniz, Ceyda Düvenci, and Berrak Tüzüntaç. The film tells the story of Semih, an artist living in Istanbul. One day, his girlfriend Defne leaves him without any warning. Throughout the film, Semih will have to look for answers about their relationship and how it all came down to this. On the way from their beginnings to their ending, Semih will discover things that he might have chosen to ignore in the past.

Don’t Leave is a special kind of movie. It goes against every single convention in the romance genre. Mainly because it starts with the audience knowing that this relationship is in shambles. The relationship is already over by the time we see our first character on screen. Thus, it becomes an exercise in melancholy as we see Semih and Defne falling in love with each other. We see how they move to the same house, sharing their problems and more, only to realize that the relationship will not have a happy ending.

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So, why watch if there is absolutely no hope from the beginning? The movie does something smart and creates a sense of mystery surrounding the reasons for the breakup. So, we know the result, but the movie focuses on the reasons why, and that is so much more interesting. The journey is what matters, and here the journey becomes clearer and clearer as the plot moves forward. Everything is done from the point of view of Semih, so many things are obscure right from the beginning, but it is fascinating to see this journey of self-discovery.

The actors are great. Burak Deniz, does an amazing job as the main character, Semih. His journey is a tough one, but it is clear from the get-go that he isn’t a very easy person to deal with either. His personality is erratic and unpredictable, which can be charming but also quite annoying at times. So, when someone loses their patience with Semih, it feels completely understandable that people get mad at him. Burak goes through an entire spectrum of emotions, and it is clear that he is a wonderful performer.

The same can be said for his companion for most of the film, Dilan Çiçek Deniz. The model-turned-actress is not only beautiful, but she is also a great performer. She injects tenderness and calmness into the character of Defne, but she also knows how to depict frustration, anger, and sadness in equal measure. Defne is without a doubt treated as a muse by the film. She is the center of Semih’s affection, but she is never put on a pedestal, and she has her own characteristics that make her just as annoying as Semih, and in consequence, more real.

The performances and the exploration of the love these two feel for each other are quite amazing, but the structure of the film feels somewhat messier than it should. We jump back and forward in time with no immediate warning, and sometimes it can be jarring. The structure and the back and forth in the timelines might turn some people. The movie really asks you to pay attention and notice the details that are being layered throughout the story. That a movie calls for your attention is not a big ask, but the structure could have been leaner and meaner.

The movie also feels a bit inconsistent in terms of visuals. Sometimes the movie brings out the beauty of the city in magnificent ways, and some other times the shots feel quite generic. Nevertheless, the opportunity to visit Istanbul in any shape or form is a big one. It is so interesting to see places that are not often represented in Western cinema that the exotic aspect of the setting might become a plus for some people. So, visually, the film could have been more polished, but the tone of the images definitely matches what the main character is going through.

In the end, Don’t Leave is an excellent exploration of what stops us from being loved, and how to love back. It is not a happy film, and you will not find a happy ending. However, the journey to the conclusion is worth it, thanks to great performances, solid character writing, and a setting that feels exotic for those who have never managed to visit it. This movie is well worth a watch.

SCORE: 8/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.