Dir/scr: Fatih Akin. Ger/Tur. 2007. 122 mins.
Though it's far below the level of his debut film, Head-On, which won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2003, Fatih Akin's new film, once it comes together at the end and finally defeats the shagginess of his script, is a solid if uneven piece of work.
Buoyed by attractive and timely themes of transnationality and globalisation, as well as more ancient themes of the relations between parents and children, international sales should be good. Festivals programmers looking for multicultural films should especially take a look.
Though always more or less emotionally involving, the film's most serious weakness is that the script is far too ambitious both in theme and plot. There are more plot points in evidence here that in five Hollywood scripts put together, and way too many improbable coincidences as well.
The film is broken into two parts, announced by portentous titles that read 'Yeder's Death' and 'Lotte's Death', but the parallelism pointed to here and in many other parts of the film is largely spurious. Akin has also succumbed to that fatal Kieslowskian disease that currently afflicts European cinema, in which people who are, unbenownst to themselves, actually connected to one another somehow, unknowingly and anonymously pass each other in public places.
A sub-species of this disease (the Inarritu syndrome) is that chronology is purposely jumbled, so that a scene that is meaningless in the beginning of the film supposedly becomes vastly more meaningful when seen again, in a fuller context, nearly two hours later. Usually, however, they aren't more meaningful, and end up seeming little more than show-off flourishes without any real significance.
We are first introduced to Ali Aksu (Kurtiz), an old Turkish man living in Bremen, Germany who takes a Turkish prostitute, Yeder (Kose), home with him, where she meets his son Nejat (Davrak). After accidentally killing Yeder, Ali is put in prison and his son Nejat goes to Turkey to look for Yeder's daughter Ayten (Yesilcay), who, it turns out, is part of a terrorist band fighting for 'independence of thought in Turkey', as she puts it. Following a police raid, she escapes to Germany where, penniless, she meets Lotte (Ziolkowska), with whom she begins a lesbian relationship that is frowned upon by Lotte's mother Susanne (Schygulla, in a superb performance).
In the meantime, Nejat has decided to give up his university position - and here Akin is at his most heavily ironic - as a professor of German, in order to buy a sort of Turkish/German bookstore in Istanbul.
This summary takes us roughly through only the first third of the film, and many, many other significant events ensue. However, it is to be hoped that this will suffice to give the reader some idea of the fatal ambitiousness of Akin's script.
Akin's trademark concerns about the complex and sometimes destructive nature of the transnationality of modern life are fully on display - people speak variously in Turkish, German and English - and characters regularly transit, in an almost bewildering fashion, between the two countries. However, whereas these insights were fresh and powerful in Head-On (who can ever forget the exchange, in German, between two young Turks in a cab in Turkey, simply because that's the language they feel most comfortable in'), here they seem merely to repeat the obvious.
Akin also takes a stab at political analysis in the person of Ayten, but it doesn't go much deeper than the level of shouting 'Fuck globalisation' at her lover's mother, Susanne. Nor do we ever get any clear idea of what her group of militants is fighting for or against, and the treatment of the group is so sketchy that it's impossible to tell whether Akin approves or disapproves of them. Akin is clearly fascinated by the global movement of bodies and cultures, but doesn't seem to have sufficiently thought it through, or, worse, figured out how to dramatise it.
In the last quarter of the film, Akin settles on the more universal theme of familial reconciliation, and at that point the film suddenly takes off. Susanne, who has also come to Turkey to try to understand her daughter Lotte's death, is reconciled with Ayten, who indirectly caused it, and in the last frame Nejat is on a remote beach in Trabzon waiting for his father to return from fishing. It's a nice ending that partly succeeds in wrapping everything up emotionally - but only if the viewer succeeds in forgetting all the false paths that have led nowhere since the movie began two hours earlier.
The Match Factory