Category Archives: German Cinema

BIFF 2012 #9: Papa Gold (Germany 2011)

One of Frank's increasingly desperate attempts to demonstrate something to Denny

Film festivals are a challenge for writers like me. I generally choose the films I watch after some research, selecting titles because either I think I will like them or because I think they might be important in helping me understand film culture a bit better – including the culture that produces the film. Of course, this leaves out many films that I might enjoy but it means that it is rare that I’m faced with a film that I find difficult to engage with. But at festivals there are certain choices that you can’t always make. Papa Gold is one of the six films in competition as a New European Feature and I found it hardgoing. It’s not my kind of film but I still have to try to be fair to it.

The central character Denny (played by writer-director Tom Lass) is a young man living in Berlin. One day Frank (well played by Peter Trabner) turns up. “Do I know you?” asks Denny. “I’m your mother’s second husband” comes the reply. Frank tells Denny that he now has a half-sister and suggests that he might want to visit and meet her. Frank pressurises Denny into letting him stay, even though it’s only a one-room flat and Denny spends most of his time with a seemingly endless supply of young women – requiring Frank to move out “for a couple of hours or so”. Frank puts up with this because his mission is to persuade Denny to return home and see his mother and new baby sister. It will take us some time to discover why Denny hasn’t been home for so long.

The blurb on the film’s website (it’s made by an independent company set up by the director and his brother who also appears in the film) suggests that Denny is a student. I’m assuming that it is the summer holiday in Berlin, but Denny doesn’t seem interested in anything apart from young women. Frank seems to think that his new stepson needs therapy of some sort and tries to organise it himself. IMDB suggests that the film is a comedy. If there are comic moments, they arise because of Frank’s well-meaning attempts to win Denny round and how they go wrong. I thought this was all rather sad and I don’t remember laughing. I remember also reading a comment that suggested the tagline “Who will mature first”  –which sums up one reading of the plot.

The budget was said to be only €2,500 and if so, the production is a major achievement. Using a Google translation, I’ve found one German website that suggests most of the film was improvised and then rehearsed. The writer praises the film as a ‘fresh take’ on the coming-of-age film and indeed the film has already won an award at a German festival. If anything, Papa Gold felt like an American Independent to me. If I was more familiar with so-called ‘slacker films’ I’d know if that was an appropriate reference. But the ones I have seen were more enjoyable than this. Papa Gold runs for only 77 minutes which doesn’t leave much space for any of the female characters (the mother remains invisible) which is a shame because it is Denny’s inability to make any emotional contact with women that remains the central issue in the film. I’ll be interested to hear what the Bradford judges think of it, especially Joanna Hogg and Wendy Ide. They’ll probably like it more than I did!

Das letzte Schweigen (The Silence, Germany 2010)

Victims in the police station: Ruth (Karoline Eichhorn), the mother of the missing girl, watched by Timo's bewildered wife Julia (Claudia Michelsen)

Several reviewers have noted that Das letzte Schweigen bears similarities to the first series of the Danish TV drama The Killing. The formats are different but the central story about the impact of a police investigation of the murder of a young girl is similar and importantly the story is as much about the effects of the investigation on the girl’s parents and the internal wranglings of the police team as it is about the ‘solving’ of a crime.

The Nordic crime connection is not surprising since crime fiction is as popular in Germany as it is elsewhere in Northern Europe. The novel by Jan Costin Wagner, which has been adapted by Swiss writer-director Baran bo Odar, won the German ‘crime prize’ in 2008. Wagner, though writing in his native German, sets his novels in Finland where he lives for much of the time with his Finnish wife. For the adaptation, a Swiss-Finnish perspective is then realised in a South German summer landscape of cornfields, forests and lakes and an oddly sterile collection of new-build houses, municipal flats and nondescript public buildings. This, I’m guessing, replaces the snowy wastes of a Finnish winter.

The film’s German title translates as the ‘final silence’, but I’m not sure why it was necessary to change the novel’s original ‘The Silence’. The title could be a reference to several things but the most likely is to the silence of Timo, who we first see in 1986 when he is witness to, and passive collaborator in, the seemingly random rape and murder of a pre-teen girl, whose bicycle is thrown into a cornfield. Timo immediately splits from the murderer and we see him again 23 years later as a successful architect with a beautiful house, wife and two young children. But then another girl on a bicycle goes missing on the anniversary of the earlier unsolved murder with her bicycle discovered in exactly the same spot. After a police retirement party, the news of the missing girl is taken badly by the retiring officer who failed to crack the earlier case and he sets out to investigate the new one. He’s aided by a younger detective returning to work in a dishevelled state after the death (from cancer) of his wife. The new case stirs the memories of the mother of the girl killed in 1986 and we witness the bewilderment of the parents of the girl who is now missing. Timo is immediately traumatised by the news, having kept his silence for 23 years. Is the missing girl a victim of the same man who was his friend – or is it just a terrible coincidence?

The presentation of this relatively uncomplicated story is stylish with good use of a CinemaScope frame and the dramatic landscape properties of cornfields/forests/lakes seen in occasional overhead aerial shots. I was particularly impressed by the use of music and sound. I found the Sight and Sound review of the film by Matthew Taylor (December 2011) to be rather snotty about the film’s presentation, using words like “portentous”, “over-emphatic, almost pompous” and “lugubriously self-importance”. I think that there is a fear in some parts about genre films that attempt to use the full range of cinematic techniques. Well, it worked for me. I accept that this isn’t a realist film in the sense that the police are a motley crew and nobody who opens the door to them seems to think it would be a good idea to ask for an ID – even though the dishevelled character looks very unlike a responsible copper. But then, invesigators in crime fiction often have behavoural tics and an odd dress sense. The heavily pregnant detective is a nice touch I think and well used in a couple of scenes.

The cornfield brings to mind one of the best crime films of recent years, Memories of Murder (S. Korea 2003). Bong Joon-ho’s film managed to combine the antics (comic, but also brutal) of a similarly bizarre crew of local investigators with a subtle commentary on Korean society and politics in the 1980s. I’m struggling to find the same sense of political purpose in The Silence. However, the film’s ending and certain aspects of the police procedure do leave a lingering sense of ‘disturbance’ –just as the stylistic aspects of the film allow a sense of dread to build throughout the narrative.

The lasting impression is a well-made and highly ‘cinematic’ film which seems to have played mainly on German TV and the joint German-French channel Arte. It wasn’t just the presence of Karoline Eichhorn that made me think of similar Thomas Arslan films (and possibly also Christian Petzold’s Yella). I’m glad that Soda picked it up for UK cinema distribution and I was pleased to see it on a big screen. (This press release seems to indicate that the film received state support in getting distribution in the UK, Denmark and Hungary.)

The trailer gives a good idea about the look and ‘feel’ of the film:

BIFF 2011 #19: Goya (East Germany/Russia/Bulgaria/Yugoslavia/Poland 1971)

In one of the film's funniest sequences, Goya shuffles the line-up of the Spanish Royal Family for a famous (and satirical) painting.

The biggest treat for me and many others in this year’s festival was a rare chance to see one of the epic productions from Eastern Europe that competed with Hollywood’s international productions in the 1960s and 1970s. We were told that this was probably the first time that the film had been shown in the UK and that the print was probably one prepared for a screening in Paris at its time of release. The fact that it was a 70mm print in good condition was arguably the main attraction for festivalgoers on the Widescreen Weekend. There was only one slight problem. This print had German dialogue and French subtitles. My French and German are both too poor to deal with complex dialogue so I did miss some aspects of the plot – I’ve had to research the life of Francisco Goya in order to try to sort out some scenes. Though I felt slightly frustrated, this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film. I hear German slightly better than French, but I found myself blotting out the dialogue and reading the subtitles. I think that this shows how ‘institutionalised’ one can be in reading subtitles. I also noted that because I was reading a language I only dimly remember learning, I often couldn’t decipher the whole subtitle line before it had disappeared. This at least means that I can now appreciate the difficulty slow readers have with subtitles. The film did actually include some dubbing since two language versions (German and Russian) were produced and actors came from several countries.

Goya is a biopic of the Spanish painter (1746-1828) who straddled the final years of the tradition of the old masters and the birth of modern fine art. The full German title of the film is Goya – oder Der arge Weg der Erkenntnis, which translates as Goya – or the Hard Way to Enlightenment. This full title gives a clue to what marks this film out from the several other Goya biopics (a Spanish film appeared in the same year and the most recent film to feature Goya was Milos Forman’s Goya’s Ghost (2006)). Goya as envisioned in Eastern Europe was a figure who had created for himself a position of some importance as a ‘court painter’ to Spain’s ancien régime. But he was also a man of sexual appetite, a believer in the rights of his Spanish compatriots and a supremely talented artist eager to try new ideas and develop new techniques. It was inevitable that he would struggle in a situation in which ‘enlightenment’, embodied in the French philosophes of the late 18th century, would come to Spain, first peacefully but eventually via war and occupation. In the meantime, Goya and other liberal figures faced not only the protocols of court but also the terrible power of the ‘Spanish Inquisition’. Being labelled a heretic could lead to flogging, imprisonment and then exile – even for those who ‘abjured’.

Goya was one of ten films made at the great DEFA studio in Berlin in a 70mm format. The sheer scale and cost of the film required resources from across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia stood in for Spain but a genuine Spanish musical group contributed to the score. The original cut was some 164 mins (with an interval) but this print was 134 mins and we watched it straight through. This is described as the ‘director’s cut’ in the DVD promotional material but there was discussion around this screening as to what actually prompted the decision to cut the film. The popular theory was that because the film was quite complicated in terms of narrative, the cuts were made because there was a danger of audience alienation. This is interesting because in my experience cutting often makes a narrative more, not less, opaque.

The film was introduced by Wolfram Hanneman (see his introduction here) who told us we would find the film ‘difficult’ even without the language issues. I didn’t really take this on board at the time, but when I researched Goya’s life afterwards I realised that the film was non-linear in its presentation of events. Since the juxtaposition of scenes still made sense in terms of revealing Goya’s ‘path to enlightenment’, this didn’t bother me too much. I don’t really have any strong feelings about 70mm (the main interest for much of the audience) and I can’t really comment on the quality of the print, except that it seemed in pretty good nick. The production was indeed epic and there was plenty of visual feasting unencumbered by language difficulties. The remarkable set pieces around the procedures of the Spanish Inquisition work very well and, as Keith remarked afterwards, this is a biopic of an artist that really does seem to say something about creativity and the artistic process. DEFA employed a small army of illustrators and artists to copy Goya’s paintings at different stages of development.

Goya (Donatas Banionis) with The Duchess of Alba (the Yugoslav actress, Olivera Katarina)

The other major interest in the film is Konrad Wolf as director and Donatas Banionis as Goya. The Lithuanian actor Banionis is the cosmonaut in Solaris and I thought he was terrific as Goya (he also played Beethoven in another DEFA biopic). Wolf (1925-1982) is controversial as a German Jew who fled with his communist family to Moscow in the 1930s and was educated and trained in the Soviet Union before returning to Berlin to work at DEFA. Despite his high status within DEFA there must have been some concern that Wolf was pro-Soviet, although others thought that he had liberal tendencies. I found it difficult to discern any authorial thumbprints on the Goya story that might hint at ideological sub-texts. The film was an adaptation of a novel by Lion Feuchtwanger and Wolf shared screenplay credit with the Bulgarian Angel Vargenshtain. This isn’t my field but perhaps someone would like to comment on Wolf’s political views?

A Region 1 DVD of the film with a slightly cropped image is available on Amazon and I’m told some of the extras are interesting. It’ll have to go on my long list of movies to acquire so that I can re-watch it with English subs.

BIFF 2011 #18: Q&A with Thomas Arslan plus In the Shadows (Germany 2010)

Another beautiful composition in an Arslan film. Trojan (Misel Maticevic) and Dora (Karoline Eichhorn)

Bradford welcomed Thomas Arslan for the UK première of his latest film In the Shadows (Im Schatten) and after the screening he was interviewed by festival programmer Neil Young. There wasn’t a big audience, but it was appreciative and for the small group of us who had seen all, or most, of the preceding four films, Im Schatten was a real treat. Like Arslan’s other fiction films, Im Schatten is quite short (85 mins) with a pared-down storyline and a spare shooting style. However, it gallops along by comparison with the earlier character studies and works convincingly as a classical European crime film. Neil Young suggested Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le samouraï (1967) as a model, but later Arslan himself referred to the same director’s Le cercle rouge (1970) and that does make more sense in terms of the plot. He also told us that he was a crime fiction fan (I knew this guy had good taste) and that one of his influences was Don Siegel’s work.

The Alain Delon character (i.e. from Le cercle rouge) in Arslan’s original script is ‘Trojan’ played by the Berlin actor Misel Maticevic – unknown in the UK but a veteran of German TV. He is very well cast and able to portray the extremely precise actions of this cool criminal. Trojan arrives back in Berlin looking for a new job. He visits a couple of local mobsters, stealing from one (and trashing the thugs sent to get the money back from him) and turning down job offers that involve working with undisciplined men. Eventually he learns of a possible heist via a bent lawyer played by Karoline Eichhorn, familiar from Arslan’s Ferien. Unfortunately, Trojan’s meetings with Dora are being monitored by a rogue police inspector. Thus the professional criminal gets himself into a situation where he is being effectively chased by the local mobster’s thugs and a dogged policeman and then there is Dora – is she reliable?

I enjoyed the film very much, partly I’m sure because of my engagement with the previous four films shown in the retrospective. All of the films are in a sense, calm, cool and ‘clean’ – even when characters are falling out. Im Schatten was shot on a budget of €550,000 (I asked Thomas Arslan) and as he explained, that did restrict the shooting time available, the parts of Berlin that he could close off and the spaces on location he could organise. On that kind of budget you can’t stage a high street shoot-out in the style of Michael Mann in Heat. Instead, the action scenes are generally confined to rooms and corridors. Moments like the shot through the glass above have to be caught just when the opportunity arises. All of this worked well, except perhaps for the heist itself which became perhaps a little too unlikely. If I’m honest, I perhaps ‘admired’ the first half of the film more than I got fully wrapped up in it, but by the second half I was fully committed and I was sad when the film ended – I could have taken more and wanted to know what happened next (the ending is ‘open’).

In conversation Thomas Arslan proved to be an engaging but self-effacing filmmaker. He appears to be committed to his work, simply trying to achieve the best results possible. He spoke about the shooting of Im Schatten. Cinematographer Reinhold Vorschneider used the digital Red One camera which seemed to work well with the overall production design representing the clean, open lines of Berlin – a city we were reminded that is much smaller than London. It emerged that Vorschneider had also shot another German crime film, Der Räuber (based on a true story) at roughly the same time as Im Schatten – an interesting double bill, perhaps? I don’t think that Thomas Arslan had worked with Vorschneider before but he did have his regular editor Bettina Blickwede on board and I’m guessing that continuity is a feature of his work.

The audience was clearly with the film and interested in their guest. The questions were interesting, but on one key issue, Arslan seemed fairly reluctant to say too much. It was clear that several people in the audience (me included) were interested in his position as a director from a culturally-mixed background who had made films about German-Turkish characters (One Fine Day is the last of a trilogy about Turkish-Germans in Berlin) as well as the documentary on going back to visit Turkey, Aus der Ferne. He made the understandable point in reference to the Turkish documentary that he couldn’t say how Turkey had changed (he went to school in Ankara before moving back to Germany where he was born), only how he had changed and how he now saw things differently. He did say that he didn’t have any particular interest in Turkish Cinema and that as a child in Turkey he only remembered seeing American movies. To be fair, the Turkish Cinema of the 1970s had largely collapsed by the time he was watching films and it has revived only since he left. However, despite what he said he featured Nuri Bilge Ceylan in his documentary so he must be noticing what is going on! The crucial question for me is whether there is a distinctive difference between what might be called a ‘Turkish diaspora filmmaking culture’ and that of the Asian/African/Caribbean diaspora in France and the UK.

In response to one of the questions Arslan confirmed that one of his aims was to explore characters ‘in space’ – how they operate in terms of the narrative space allowed them by the mise en scène. And this is certainly evident in his films – and in this film is bolstered by Maticevic’s performance. He responded to a question about the ‘Berlin School’ by saying that on the one hand it didn’t really mean anything but on the other hand it was helpful in getting his films some promotion. This latter issue was something several of us raised. We all clearly enjoyed watching the films on a big screen (courtesy of prints from the Berlin Film Museum) but apart from Im Schatten, most of his films appeared only on German TV even if some of them made it onto DVDs. We pressed him as to whether he could get more funding by getting TV channels and distributors from France, Italy, UK etc. on board. He seemed quite diffident about this, worrying that more production partners possibly meant more interference. That is clearly a worry but it would be sad if films as well made as these were denied a cinema audience. Perhaps we might have egged him on to look for better distribution. I hope so.

We should thank the festival and Neil Young in particular for bringing Thomas Arslan over.

Neil Young’s ‘Jigsaw Lounge’ has an extended interview with Thomas Arslan about Im Schatten here.

A detailed Thomas Arslan bio is on the German Film portal which also has a section on Turkish-German film (which helps to explain Arslan’s position).

There is an interview with Arslan about Im Schatten on Cineuropa’s YouTube site:

and a trailer (in German without subs):

BIFF 2011 #15: A Fine Day (Der schöne Tag, Germany 2001)

Deniz (played by Serpil Turhan)

The fourth festival film from Thomas Arslan was another short feature made for television – one of a trilogy, I think, about characters in a particular district of Berlin. We see 24 hours in the life of Deniz, a young Turkish-German actress. On this day Deniz (played by Serpil Turhan) will try to split up with her boyfriend, go to work in a dubbing studio, visit her mother, go to an audition, meet her sister and spend time with a guy she notices on the street. There is no ‘plot’ as such, unless we create one in the form of some kind of ‘journey of discovery’ for Deniz.

As with all Arslan’s films that we’ve seen in the festival, this is beautifully shot and edited. Even the simplest actions – opening a door, entering a room, walking down the street – involve perfect compositions held for just a little longer than usual. There is a lot of movement across Berlin – mostly walking or riding on the U-Bahn or S-Bahn – and on this sunny summer’s day the city looks attractive and inviting. I happily watched Deniz move through it with her purposeful stride.

Deniz gets to the point when she meets people. She says what she thinks in a matter of fact way. She’s trying to work out what relationships are all about – how and why she should nurture them and how she will know when it is worthwhile to stick with someone. The only clunky moment in the film for me was when she approached a woman in a coffee bar for a cigarette and eventually prompted a lecture about the meaning of romance. Perhaps it is unfair to call it clunky – if she’d asked me about romance I would probably have given the same explanation that ‘romantic love’ is an eighteenth century social construct.

This was one of my favourite films of the festival and it set things up nicely for the last Arslan film screening – at which he would be present. Watch this space.

BIFF 2011 #10: Two films by Thomas Arslan

An Istanbul shot from the window in 'Aus der Ferne'

The second and third films in Bradford’s Thomas Arslan retrospective confirmed that the stylistic traits of Ferien shown earlier in the festival have deep roots. Turn the Music Down (Mach die Musik leiser) (Germany 1994) is recognisably the work of the same director, albeit with non-professional actors. There are the same perfect compositions on which the camera lingers – perfectly still but seemingly waiting for something that doesn’t necessarily happen. Or perhaps it is to allow us to reflect on the lives of the young characters in the story? I found myself happily watching a film in which nothing really happens in the sense of the generic narratives found in ‘teen films’ of any kind. I think this was because I was watching on a big screen and it was pleasurable to watch the scenes roll by and muse about the characters – but if this had been on television (it was shot for ZDF in Germany) I would probably have ignored it.

Turn the Music Down focuses on a group of four lads aged 16-20 (I’m not sure of their ages because the German school/college system is different) plus a similar number of girls (probably slightly younger). They live in Essen in the Ruhr and the major source of entertainment for the lads is music – ‘death metal’. They also go to a drive-in cinema and a music bar, but otherwise simply ‘hang out’. So far, so good, but these are bloodless teens by US or UK standards. They appear to have little testosterone – there’s no sex in the movie, no fights, no blazing rows with teachers or parents or police, no drugs. They drink beer but don’t get drunk. Their only vice seems to be to smoke too much and occasionally to shoplift or steal petrol. On the other hand, they are closer to what I imagine German youths of the time to be like (confirmed by some of the comments on IMDB etc.). I think the closest British film I can think of would be Ken Loach’s Looks and Smiles (1981), set in Sheffield and also made for TV, but that film has much more plot and an anger about unemployment. The German youths seem to have lost anger and found ennui – the global affliction of the 1990s? The most interesting comment comes from the older brother of the central character when he warns that “you mustn’t show fear – that’s what they want to feel” (the ‘they’ being, presumably, parents, education authorities, employers etc.).

Arslan himself lived in Essen and must have observed young people like this – I wonder what they did next? The oldest youth was due to start his Army Service at the end of the film.

From Far Away (Aus der Ferne, Germany 2006) is a documentary about Arslan’s journey through Turkey in 2005. It adopts the familiar style of the earlier features. A static camera, carefully positioned, creates landscapes, views over the city from windows, street scenes, closer shots of groups etc. The structure is the journey – starting in Istanbul and then moving to Ankara. In Istanbul Arslan joins Nuri Bilge Ceylan – editing Climates as far as I could make out. In Ankara he takes us to his old house and tells us about the school he went to. The journey then moves south to nearly the Syrian border and then East towards Iran. There are a couple of other short commentaries (about the Kurds and the history of persecution against the Armenians). Otherwise we are left to make our own minds up about what we see – which is fine by me. What it meant to me was an introduction first to busy, secular Instanbul, literally the gateway to Europe (with the image of people leaving the station) and then to calmer Ankara, the ‘modern’ capital. But as we travel south and east, an older, more complex image develops – not without its issues of security (the constant checkpoints on the road) and struggles for identity in a multicultural society, but also with beautiful landscapes. I’ve seen a negative review of the film but for me it acted like an invitation to the South and East of this large country which I’d certainly like to visit. In a later Q&A session, Arslan denied any strong identification with Turkish Cinema and in answer to a question about what he thought about Turkey (this documentary was his first visit for many years, I think) he said only that things looked different from his perspective simply because he had been away for some time and he had changed – the perfect response, I guess, from someone making a largely observational documentary.

BIFF 2011 #4: Die Fremde (When We Leave, Germany 2010)

Umay and her son, Cem

I started this screening in ignorance. I knew it was a German-Turkish film and that was about it. I hadn’t realised that it was a controversial film and in some ways I wish it had been flagged as such a bit more – if only to attract a larger audience, especially in Bradford. My first impression was that this was a Turkish family melodrama presented in CinemaScope. I was very happy to be sat in the second row watching it.

At the centre of the film is the stunningly wonderful Sibel Kekilli (whose performance in Fateh Akin’s Head On is imprinted on my brain). She plays 25 year-old Umay, mother of a small boy Cem. She has an abortion in secret and goes home to her husband and his family in Istanbul. But Cem says something to make his father suspicious and after a violent squabble, Umay takes her son and returns to her family in Germany. She might have hoped for some support but in her traditional Turkish family what she has done is unacceptable. Her parents and her three siblings want her to return to what is an abusive marriage to a man she doesn’t love.

There is nothing particularly ‘new’ about Die Fremde. Characters behave much as we might expect them to do in this kind of family drama and in relation to the genre of films that deals with issues of integration/assimilation, tradition v. modernity etc. So Umay’s older brother is the most violently aggressive, wanting to send the boy back to his father in Turkey. Her father and mother both feel constrained by traditions and they fear that Umay’s ‘disrespect’ will bring shame upon the family and that they will be ostracised by their friends. Umay’s younger brother and sister – the most ‘assimilated’ in some ways  – are at first more sympathetic, but then begin to realise that her actions are hurting them as well. But instead of relying on these generic tropes, writer-director Feo Aladag focuses on Umay and uses Sibel Kekilli’s strong performance to drive a personal drama. The film is two hours long, but for me the narrative never flagged. For a melodrama, the music was finely controlled and subservient to the performances which I thought were all excellent.

The film explodes into dramatic action in the last few scenes and there is not a happy ending. In one sense this is a relief and I’m glad that the film follows the policy of a British-Asian drama such as Ken Loach’s Ae Fond Kiss rather than the feelgood endings of such film’s as Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham. Yet, like Ae Fond Kiss, this is a story about a migrant community trapped by tradition that is told by a writer-director from ‘outside’. Feo(dora) Aladag is an Austrian-born actress turned director who has herself married into a Turkish family and her aim is clearly to expose and question the acceptance of violence towards women in cases like this – which are far too common in many traditional cultures across the world. Her aim seems to me very worthwhile and her execution of the task she set herself deserves the praise she has received. The film was selected as Germany’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2011. Nevertheless there will be reactions to Aladag’s stance. Unfortunately, one that is manifest already is the knee-jerk reaction to the film’s premise which is built on Islamophobia. When I looked at a couple of reviews from the US (where the film was released in January 2011) I found such comments on various blogs and responses to published reviews. But Islam has very little to do with the story as such. The violence towards Umay is based on village traditions. As one of the modern/assimilated German-Turkish characters (the woman who runs the catering company where Umay gets work) says “let’s keep God out of this”. The attacks on Islam come because the largest group of migrants in most European countries are Muslim but struggles over ‘modernity’ run across religious differences.

The other reaction is based on struggles to understand how post-colonial societies respond to cultural changes in relation to film production. Does it matter that Feo Aladag is not herself of Turkish descent. Perhaps it matters more that she is a woman presenting a woman’s story? I suppose that the film might be criticised for presenting a rather bland view of a ‘perfect’ German response to Umay’s plight (i.e. the police, education, health service etc. plus friendly co-workers). There is no evidence of resentment towards Umay and the trouble comes only from within her own community. I hope that the film does get a UK release and generates a wider discussion about the issues it raises. One final point: the English title of this film is When We Leave – a reference, I think, to dialogue in the film between Umay and Cem with the boy remembering that his mother has told him that when they leave one of the several places that they stay after leaving his father they should always leave something behind. This is quite an intriguing and provocative idea. The German title appears more direct and abrupt. I’m not sure of the precise idiomatic meaning of Die Fremde, but the root ‘fremd’ means ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’. Can anyone help further?

Here’s the official trailer (with English subtitles):