Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother
A visitor from Bamberg confirmed the mounting incidence of the events at the core of Feo Aladag’s When We Leave/Die Fremde. Following a sneak preview of her début as writer, director and producer at the Consulate General of Germany, the Viennese actress and newspaperwoman said that the story is an amalgam of more than a dozen real ones culled from many more over two years’ researching the phenomenon, often at shelters for women.
A short opening sequence is more puzzle than plot giveaway. One wonders why it is included, despite the contemporary film-fashion for such; in any case, it is at once forgotten, recalled only at the close, where subsequent frames reveal a horrible error added to an equally horrible intention. Aside from Mafia movies, the concept of “honor killings” is foreign to Western sensibilities, but with waves of immigrants -- more than 2.7 million of Turkish origin constitute Germany’s largest minority -- the fate of pariah women deemed to have disgraced their families has become a concern that Aladag feels needs “national dialogue.” Isolated, she continued, the immigrant community is moving, not towards integration but backwards and deeper into fossilized traditions.
To little 2007 fanfare, Forbidden Lie$ broached the matter, but that documentary veered off into director Anna Broinowski’s credulous acquiescence to Norma Khouri aka Norma Bagain Touliopoulos, who turned out more on-the-lam Chicago mother than intended Jordanian victim in Australia and authoress of Forbidden Love or Honor Lost.
The director apologized for the screened DVD, which muted colors of the theatrical-release 35 mm. Actually, the drab, mostly interiors of this version came out fitting the parochially strict divided home life and furnishings, contrasted with the neons of a night Berlin of contrived romance in the offing.
That home is where Umay (Sibel Kekilli, Best Actress at Tribeca 2010) flees to, son Cem (Nazim Schiller) in tow, from an abusive husband (Ufuk Bayraktar, as Kemal) in Istanbul and an abortion. The parental household welcomes her but, as they come to understand that she has returned for good, pressures for a return to her marriage. Unquestioned father Kader (Settar Tanriögen) risks upping already dangerous blood pressure but by telephone -- and later physical interference -- assures Kemal that this elder daughter will relent and not bring either of them to shame. Scowly older brother Mehmet (Tamer Yigit) is less diplomatic, with obedient younger Acar (Serhad Can) caught in the middle and head-scarfed mother Halime (Derya Alabora) quietly going along with the menfolk.
There is hypocrisy in this, as shown in the case of sister Rana (Almila Bagriacik), her wedding to Duran (Marlon Pulat) initially nixed but then rescheduled through a monetary settlement when the teenager blurts out her pregnancy.
These people are not villains, just suffering beings caught up in a web of cultural commandments that seem medieval to outsiders. Focus is on this family so conscious of, prisoner to, community standards and reputation, but other characters do appear so as to give roundness through other views and to relieve what would otherwise be overpowering concentration. Thus, Gül Hanim (Nursel Köse), in whose catering kitchen Umay finds work and who visits the parents to press her employee’s case; Atife (Alwara Höfels), the towering blonde friend who offers her home to Umay when Mehmet’s outburst forces her from a women’s shelter; and Stipe (Florian Lukas), the film’s weakest character as Umay’s coworker and romantic refuge.
Slender Umay is given a dogged dignity. Cem invariably beside her, she keeps coming back, only to be rebuffed by those she loves (and needs). She reaffirms her ties -- “Baba, you used to say that blood is thicker than water” -- along with a determination to make a life for herself and her son, “all I have” and their only grandson and nephew. Turned away, she seldom loses composure or hope.
Winner of national and international awards and Germany’s submission for best foreign-language Oscar, When We Leave is a human tragedy above pleading for a cause (although that, too). Without hand-wringing, it can move one to head-shaking sorrow, but also to admiration. “When you leave a place, it’s important to leave something behind,” something of yourself -- a T-shirt, a memory, a lesson, for those who remain.
(Released by Olive Films; not rated by MPAA.)