Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Germany's entry for Best Foreign Language Film: Feo Aladag's sloppy WHEN WE LEAVE

In the what-were-they-thinking? department concerning submissions to the Academy for Best Foreign Language Film, Germany's choice must have raised a few eyebrows. In addition to raising those of TrustMovies, it also dropped his jaw. He finds it difficult to believe that this major European nation, a country who makes a consider-able number of films each year (unlike, say, Iceland, whose choice was a bit more circumscribed), could come up with nothing better than WHEN WE LEAVE.

This poorly conceived, Turk-bashing melodrama (posing as a plea for Turkish families living in Germany to come into the 21st Century) begins well enough, if relying heavily on the tried-and-true. Step by step, however, it uses the schlockiest conventions of soap-opera -- overheard conversations, chance encounters, coincidence-times-ten -- until the real slap-in-the-face arrives: the climax that provides a coup de grâce of stunning stupidity.

A first feature written and directed by actress-turned-filmmaker Feo Aladag (shown at left), When We Leave has such possibilities and, even within its present state, a number of fine performances and intelligent, well-directed scenes that most aware and mature viewers will probably feel, as the end credits roll, an acute sense of opportunity lost.

While I call the film a Turk-basher, I have no ax to grind here. I am no fan of the country of Turkey -- due to its refusal to admit to a history that includes Armenian genocide and because the Muslim religion, even though the country is taking pains to secularize itself, still holds its women down, and by virtue of that, holds its men down, too. Turkey is another of those eastern countries in which the nonsensical sense of "god and his will" continues to hold sway, while holding the population back at a time when the world, as we know it, may not have that much time left.

Like last year's film Bliss (a much better one -- and from Turkey!), Aladag's movie involves honor-killing, this time centered around a pretty young woman named Umay, played by Sibel Kekilli (shown above, right) of Head -On, whose husband is so abusive and full of male-entitlement that her only option, as she sees it, is to return to her own family in Germany, bringing her young son (Nizam Schiller, above, left) with her. When her family members understand her plans, however, they want no part of them. A good wife, after all, belongs with (under?) her husband, no matter how big an asshole he may be. End of story.

Our heroine does not see things that way and so, striking out on her own, she soon has a job (above), a new place to live, a boyfriend (played by Florian Lukas, below): the works! But, oh, how she misses that wonderful family of hers -- which leads to the film's most foolish scene, taking place at her sister's wedding shown at bottom). Sure, I can understand a girl's need for family, but around this point, I began questioning her sanity.

The melodrama increases as the film proceeds but, truthfully, the movie may have lost you by now. If not, the ending will certainly do the trick. In The Last Circus, a Spanish film set to open here soon, a protagonist and antagonist vie for the prize and in the process manage to destroy it. While the two films have almost nothing else in common -- in style, content or time period -- only this idea unites them. Despite its over-the-top comic bloodshed and craziness, "Circus" brings its theme to fruition, while When We Leave, despite its would-be seriousness and timeliness, reduces it to shambles.

The movie, from Olive Films, opens this Friday, January 28, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall 3. To view further showings around the country, click here and scroll down.

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