Thursday, September 17, 2015

A vast-canvas road trip of genocide and longing: Fatih Akin's surprising saga, THE CUT

As much as I have welcomed the disparate work of German-born, Turkish-descended filmmaker Fatih Akin, whose creative, energetic and moving films have run the gamut from In July and Soul Kitchen to Head On and The Edge of Heaven, I would never have pegged him to tackle such a vast-canvas, very nearly epic family saga of genocide and search like his new film, THE CUT. Yet Herr Akin has come through with a movie that's rich, colorful and relatively "epic," yet small enough to be intimate, as needed.

The filmmaker, shown at right, who directed and co-wrote (with Mardik Martin) is here addressing the Armenian genocide which has its 100th anniversary this year and remains unacknowledged still by the Turkish nation. (Where would justice lie had the Germans refused to acknowledge their somewhat later Holocaust? I suppose if Turkey had been bent on world domination -- and stopped from that goal -- responsibility would have had to be accepted by now. I find it interesting that Akin comes from both these cultures, and that his films, among other surface things, are always about bringing together supposedly opposites, outsiders and insiders, while finding a place for "the other."

I would guess that The Cut is his biggest-budget effort thus far. An international co-production involving France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Poland, Canada and (yes), Turkey, and filmed in five countries (Jordan, Germany, Malta, Cuba and Canada), the movie looks terrific and seems utterly place-specific.

Its star is the French actor of Algerian descent, Tahar Rahim (above, of A ProphetFree Men, Day of the Falcon and The Past), whose ability to make much using little is in rare form here. The film's title refers to a particularly nasty and life-threatening wound, given early on in the movie that deprives our hero, Nazaret, of his voice. M. Rahim makes the most of his facial expressions, hand movements and body language to communicate throughout.

Initially, The Cut is about our hero's ability to simply stay alive in the face of the genocide around him. Once some kind of freedom presents itself, reuniting with his family take precedence and leads to the road-trip/search that makes up the remainder of the movie. Along the route, Nazaret encounters a wealth of varied characters, helpful or harmful, and these people help make the movie a more interesting one (they also help pass the pretty lengthy two-hour-and-nineteen-minute running time). Good and bad characteristics are doled out with enough (but not too obvious) equanimity -- amongst Muslims and Christians, men and women, along with the differing countries -- that few hackles will be raised. In a particularly sweet/sour irony, the man who gives Nazaret his wound is also the one who saves his life.

Among the most memorable, if terrible, of this movie's scenes takes place, post genocide, in a kind of camp in which women and children have been left dead or to die, in which Nazaret encounters his sister-in-law. The "look" of this scene, with its dreck-tinged colors and design, is something that may stick with me forever. I don't recall seeing anything quite like it previously. (The production design comes via Allan Starski.)

Movies like The Cut depend somewhat on an audience's good will and its need for that feeling of satisfaction and closure that "search" films demand. Akin delivers this at the same time as he offers up its cost, with a finale is moving but reticent. Overall, this is a fine addition to the filmmaker's oeuvre, as well as to the continuing history of bringing to light (and keeping it there) the Armenian genocide.

The Cut -- from Strand Releasing -- opens tomorrow, Friday, September 18, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Landmark Sunshine Cinema, as well as in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 and Royal theaters.

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