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This film was part of the Ghent filmfestival 2012, in the official Competition section. The director was not available for a final Q&A (he had to catch a flight), but in his introduction emphasized that "Kuma" actually means 2nd wife, something that dates back to ancient traditions and beliefs (but dropped from civil law since 1920). He did not want to reveal too much about the story itself, because we were to expect some unexpected turns of events, and he would rather not spoil our surprise. Further, he was happily surprised to see two fully booked venues for his film, a smaller one yesterday (175 seats) and a larger one today (375 seats).
The story develops slowly but in a steady pace, without dull moments to speak of. Our main character is a young woman Ayse, who we see getting married with Hasan, the oldest son of Mustafa and Fatma. Later on, after having moved to Austria, we see that it was actually a scam marriage. In fact, Ayse becomes the 2nd wife of Mustafa, sleeps with him in the same room, and even carries and gives birth to a daughter as a result. Fatma has planned all this, being afraid to die from cancer. The latter does not come true, due to successful medical treatment.
Hasan also lives in the same house, but he is satisfied with the situation as it is, because of a secret he is hiding (being gay). For him it was just a convenient way to get his aunts and sisters of his back, and he can now continue hiding his secret. We find out about his secret much later, when he reveals it to Ayse after she admits having an eye on him.
Several intertwining story lines illustrate the complex situation Ayse found herself in, all of this confined in an apartment in Vienna where they all live. The daughters of Mustafa and Fatma have difficulties in accepting her as a new mother in the event that Fatma dies. And, of course, there are problems with the language, and other things Ayse finds different in Austria and needs getting used to.
Rather than Fatma, who is declared cured from cancer, Mustafa dies unexpectedly and leaves the family unprovided for. After some hefty discussions about their common future, Ayse decides to take a job in the local supermarket. While working overtime she gets more and more intimate with a male colleague, but they are caught in the act by her family. Especially Fatma does not take it lightly. Internal relations change considerably in the fallout, and daily life finds a new consensus after a tumultuous period.
I think the changing relations between the women involved, mother(s) as well as daughters, make this film interesting to watch. A superficial viewer could easily mistake the cultural and religious differences between Turkey and Austria for being the main theme. However, that is not a novel subject for a film hence less interesting from our viewpoint. As a side benefit, we get the unique chance to observe how a family of Turkish origin lives together in Vienna in the confines of an apartment.
All in all, a very commendable film, and in particular the casting and acting make it a noteworthy experience. The women are most prominent in the story, while the men remain bystanders more or less. I scored a 5 (out of 5) for the audience award when leaving the theater.
Very peculiar was that the audience remained unusually silent during and after the credits. I would not be surprised when the story gave some food for thought, plus some material to talk about later on. I hope they get the message that the survival strategies of the respective women are the main theme of the film, rather than the cultural gap between Turkey and Austria, or religious traditions for that matter. I must assume here, while the introduction by the director left us in the dark about his interior motives.
For me such a movie is so precious because I have the feeling that it can help to get a better understanding of a foreign culture in a time of right wing gain of influence everywhere in Europe.
I'm living in Vienna too and the amount of immigrants is on the rise and I often feel threaded by it myself.
Such movies help to open the eyes that they are also no more but simply humans which helps to break up the abstract idea we have about strangers without any clue what or who they really are.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not fond of the (in my eyes) medieval approach of the conservative Turkish-Islamic culture despite it is one of the most progressive in the Islamic world.
On the other hand I'm a bit jealous of the family quality while it got nearly lost in our modern western culture.
But one must keep in mind that their model is carried mostly on the shoulders of the female part of the family (like it was before in the Christian culture in the past).
To get back: It opens a view into their live and encourages the understanding of their culture which is a very important contribution in our "I fear the unknown" world.
I won't go into details here but essentially this movie is a study on "fanatically traditional" Turkish family issues dealing with patriarchy, women's rights, sexuality, ... A critique if you will but a subtle one, grounded in authenticity as the director Umut Dağ probably draws from experiences within his own expanded family, and nuanced enough to still make the viewer see the characters as human beings after all. It is a deconstruction of the "bad Turkish immigrant" stereotype as well in that regard.
What's really outstanding in this movie is the acting. Absolutely perfect cast with beautiful but fragile Begüm Akkaya as the title role Ayse.
There's also Vedat Erincin from "Almanya - Willkommen in Deutschland" who played a completely different father figure role in that movie. Also, some people will remember the kid actor as the little boy from the "Tatort: Angezählt" episode where he rode a bike, sprayed a prostitute with gasoline and burned her. Muratahn Muslu also was in that episode and played a boxing pimp. Muslu transitions to a very different take on masculinity in "Kuma", once again proving that he is a great versatile actor.
On a side note, the movie reminded my in a weird way of "Das weisse Band". It was also very likely inspired by the "Kuma" film from 1974.
All in all a must-see if you are even vaguely interested in the issues surrounding "traditional" Turkish families.