Fatih Akin is one of the more extraordinary German directors. Over the past ten years, he’s been working on a trilogy titled Love, Death and the Devil. This trilogy finds its conclusion with The Cut, a movie that premiered at the ZFF Zurich Film Festival.
To fully understand the sort of movie The Cut is, we need to look back at German director Fatih Akin’s other movies of the past ten years. Well, the ones in the trilogy. He’s done a few other movies in between, but there are now three that make up his Love, Death and The Devil trilogy.
The First Two Parables
It all began in 2004 with Gegen die Wand (Head on) that saw a man drunkenly drive his car into a wall without hitting the brakes. He’s put on suicide watch at the hospital, even though he had no intention of dying in the accident. In fact, he doesn’t really know what he was thinking when he did it. Either way, he’s on suicide watch and there he meets Sibel, played by Sibel Kekilli of Game of Thrones-fame in what appears to be her first non-pornographic role. Sibel wanted to kill herself just to get away from her traditional turkish family. The two become friends and eventually something like lovers. They even marry. But that’s before they’re in love
I won’t go into the second part of the trilogy – Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven – too much, because it adds little to the point I’m trying to make. It’s about people dying and death as a topic.
The movies are more of a parable. Akin uses his actors and characters to illustrate some larger picture. So Gegen die Wand is Akin’s commentary on love he sees as a fundamentally broken thing that can’t be made to work by applying logic alone. Sometimes, even the people in love don’t know how and why their relationship works.
The Look and Feel of Akin’s Films
Fatih Akin’s films that make up the trilogy right up until The Cut are unpleasant. That does not mean that they’re bad. They’re just not very pleasant. This is reflected both in the stories he’s telling, the points he’s making as well as the visuals. In Gegen die Wand Akin emphasises the lower layers of society. There’s hardly a clean set. Grey buildings, litter, loud noises et cetera. Akin’s movie is not a clean one. With this, he makes viewers see some strange kind of beauty in our every day life.
When Sibel and her husband meet at a county fair like thing called a Jahrmarkt, it’s a beautiful scene that goes straight to the heart. Because we’ve all been there. It’s loud and everything is flashing and ridiculous announcements were made. But there she was. Or there he was. And it was the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen. That’s the sort of movie Akin makes.
While this might sound slightly pretentious and the movies are not pretty to look at because they get to viewers on both a visual as well as emotional level, they are undoubtedly important. They show not just German or German-speaking audiences, but also the international ones, the emotional state and views of at least one person who grew up in this cultural melting pot that is Europe. They are as far removed from comedy and romance – let alone RomCom – as it gets. They have little to no trace of Hollywood or the typical grandeur and exaggeration that comes with a Hollywood movie.
Enter The Cut
The Cut is the first movie of Akin’s trilogy to stray from the setting of Right Here, Right Now as it’s set in 1915, when the Armenians were killed off in what they refer to as the Medz Yeghern, which translates to Great Crime, a genocide more known to people outside the cultural circle of Armenians as the Armenian Holocaust. Long story short: 1.5 million Armenians were either outright killed or sent on death marches because the then-existing Ottoman Empire needed more space for their more well-liked people after they had lost 85 percent of their territory in the 1912 Balkan war.
In the midst of this mess, there’s a man named Nazareth Manoogian (Tahar Rahim) who gets separated from his family and put on a death march. It is only through the mercy of several people from all corners of the religious world that he survives and thrives, even though he lost his voice. He presumes that his daughters are dead, but goes on an globe-spanning odyssey to find them once he learns that they’re still alive.
Too Big, Too Harmless
This is where the movie’s main problem comes in. Both previous films in the trilogy and most if not all the other movies from Akin’s filmography are set in current day. To put it bluntly and understating the art of film-making: All it takes is open eyes in our world and you’ve got the most amazing sets imaginable. The setting itself is easy, because you’re in it at all times.
The Cut, however, is set from 1915 onwards. There’s nothing wrong with that other than the fact that 1915 doesn’t exist anymore. So Fatih Akin and his team had to rebuild a world that once was. And it’s kind of, for lack of a better word, shiny. Everything appears to have this modern gleam to it, most prominently during the time when Nazareth spends time in a refugee camp and meets his sister-in-law who’s dying of either hunger and/or disease. The people there, the tents, the sky, everything just looks so plasticky, completely ruining a scene that should be emotional. It’s not that Akin didn’t want to get an authentic 1915 across, because there are little bits of historical trivia in every scene. It’s just that he somehow just didn’t manage. This has the unfortunate side-effect that most of the movie is spent on trying to find small anachronisms, of which there aren’t any big ones.
The second main point of critique is the fact that it seems that Akin’s lost his bite. The movie, especially in the second half, seems tired. Not just plot-wise, but also in terms of what makes Akin’s movies have such a huge impact. This inherent ugliness that is somehow beautiful in the other two movies of the trilogy is gone and nowhere to be found. There are traces of it, though. It’s clear that there could have been more but something stopped Akin from going that extra mile. Of course, it’s important to not just have gratuitous violence, sex, blood and gore when talking about the genocide of the Armenians – which Turkey still denies to be an actual genocide – because that would be tacky and very probably offensive.
But it’s just that bit of offensiveness. That little bit of «Hey, you can’t do that!» that made the other parts of the trilogy hit home. Remove that and you’ve got a lacklustre film. There’s violence, sexual and otherwise, but it’s always semi-off-screen.
Plot. Repeat. Plot.
The movie’s main problem is, though, that the plot is one sentence. While Akin glances over the historical context, pre-supposing that we already are aware of one of the bigger crimes of the 20th century that is rather obscure, he shows the fate of a man, looking for his daughters. After it’s been established that the man Nazareth has been separated from his family and found his way back to society and re-established some sort of stable life, the following happens. About five times:
- Nazareth asks someone if they’ve seen his daughters
- Someone has
- Nazareth goes to where that person says the girls are
- Violence happens
- Nazareth arrives
- People tell him that the girls are no longer there
- People take Nazareth in
What adds to that is the fact that the first part of the movie, until we get to the point where the plot begins its seemingly endless loop. feels as if it’s about three quarters of the movie in terms of length. That’s where Akin shines. The scenes in the desert – apart from the occasional kitschy hiccup where everything looks and feels as if ti was made of plastic and wooden acting – are impressive and convey a very welcome sense of vastness and loneliness that Nazareth undoubtedly feels.
Subsequently, Nazareth rushes through half the world until he arrives in what is very probably a touristy Wild West town in real life.
Historically Important, No Fingerpointing
When doing this sort of movie, it’s easy to just go «Boo! The Turkish suck as they’ve killed millions!» and point the moralistic finger at the people who killed the Armenians. However, due to the fact that Akin just glances over the historical context of the movie, he doesn’t really point any fingers at anyone. Neither does he elevate the Armenians to be noble sufferers against the Turkish devils. And neither does he make a commentary on Muslims, Communists, Americans, the Irish or anyone else, even though he could easily do that.
Instead, Akin focuses on the perils of Nazareth Manoogian. That’s it. His journey is all that matters to the movie and the main character himself.
However, it is necessary to point out that a movie like this is of some historical importance, if only to raise awareness of what had happened. To this day, Turkey does not acknowledge that this was a genocide. They admit to there being countless Armenians that died by the hands of the Turks, but it wasn’t a genocide. It was something else. To this day, the Armenians, now spread out all over the world, are fighting for at least an apology.
The Cut is not a bad movie. It’s gotten a lot of bad press, and the press was right. It’s also not a good movie. It’s a decidedly okay movie. It’s a bit too long and Fatih Akin might have been in over his head while doing it, but it’s painfully obvious that he did it with passion, which makes up for a lot.
Is it a good closing chapter to the Love, Death and The Devil trilogy? Well, it’s a third part. It’s nowhere near as impressive as the first two films, but worth a watch, seeing as it illustrates the suffering of a man who was affected by history. However, personally, I wouldn’t be against the trilogy having more parts. I am curious to see what other big subjects Akin can tackle and how he’ll do it.