, the writer and director of Aus dem nichts (lit. trans. From Nothing) is a political individual; he makes political films and he makes political statements in his personal life. Akin identifies as a German-Turk; he was born in Hamburg, but his parents are both Turkish, having come to Germany with the first wave of Turkish immigrants following the Wirtschaftswunder of the fifties and sixties. He lives and works in Germany, and although almost all of his films are set there (the notable exception is The Cut (2014)
), and all have German-funding, he considers himself a Turkish filmmaker. When he won Best Screenplay for Auf der anderen Seite (2007)
at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, he accepted the award "on behalf of Turkish cinema." Easily the best known/most notorious of his political statements, however, was in 2006 when he was photographed wearing a t-shirt with the word "BUSH" on it, but with the "S" replaced by a swastika. Displaying a swastika in public is against the law in Germany, and after a complaint was made, he was investigated (but not charged) by German police. He later defended the shirt, stating "Bush's policy is comparable with that of the Third Reich. I think that under Bush, Hollywood has been making certain films at the request of the Pentagon to normalise things like torture and Guantánamo. I'm convinced the Bush administration wants a third world war. I think they're fascists [...] You can apply irony to something like that. You can redefine the symbol in a politically correct horizon. My T-shirt is more than mere provocation. You have to look into the context. The swastika is not there on its own, but as part of the word 'BUSH.' One would have to be pretty stupid, not to understand that." In short, this is not a guy afraid to speak his mind.
Akin's main political preoccupation in his filmography, however, is not Nazism or American presidents, it's the experience of Turkish immigrants in Germany, specifically the racism often directed towards them, racism which is oftentimes found masquerading as patriotism. It is unknown how many Turks are actually in Germany, as the German census doesn't allow people to record their ethnicity, but as of 2011, there were 2.7 million inhabitants with at least one Turkish parent. However, academic estimates suggest there be as many as 7 million Turks, or people identifying as Turks, in the country. Now, with that many people of a different nationality in a country, problems are going to arise (just ask the British), and this is where Akin focuses a great deal of his energies. Everything from Solino (2002)
to Gegen die Wand (2004)
to Auf der anderen Seite to Soul Kitchen (2009)
has political DNA derived from the experience of racism in Germany.
So, with that in mind, Nichts (co-written with Hark Bohm
) doesn't jump off the page as a typical Akin film - when former convicted drug dealer Nuri Sekerci (Numan Acar
) and his son are killed in a bomb blast at his office, his wife Katja (Diane Kruger
) has faith that the police and courts will find and punish those responsible. However, as Katja finds herself becoming more and more disillusioned with the systems which are supposed to be on her side, she comes to believe she must take things into her own hands. Read like that, this could be any number of bad Hollywood movies (the wonderfully risible Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
springs to mind). However, when we include the fact that Nuri is Turkish, and that the police quickly come to suspect the bombing may have been connected to a Neo-Nazi group, it fits much more comfortably into his oeuvre. Unfortunately, it's not very good.
First of all, the film is rigidly divided into an intentionally artificial three-act structure, with each act given its own title ("The Family", "The Trial", and "The Sea") and introduction by way of home-movie footage. One of the most significant problems with the film is that the acts simply don't yoke. The first is a pretty decent study of grief, the second is a rather dull courtroom drama, and the third is a bizarrely hollow (and irritatingly repetitive) investigation into the morality of revenge. The last act mirrors the first in its use of slow pacing, long shots of people not doing very much, and sparse dialogue (as opposed to the very wordy second act), and while this is interesting in setting the narrative up in the first act, it falls flat in the third, as the whole thing ends up coming across as rather po-faced and self-important; a film convinced of its own profundity. For all that, however, up until the conclusion, I was thinking I would give it a six; it's entertaining enough, in a fairly disposable way. But then the bottom falls out. The last scene itself is actually pretty good. It's what happens next that irritated me.
This has not been an especially political film - the Neo-Nazi storyline barely features; a few mentions by police in the first act, a single scene in the second, and a couple of short scenes in the third. That's it. As Katja is the only character who is really given any degree of agency, the Neo-Nazi characters are little more than background extras (in fact, in some scenes, they are literally background extras). So this is not a film which spends a lot of time delving into issues of racism in Germany or offering insight into the rise of Right-Wing Populism across Europe. It's a revenge drama. However, as it ends, a legend appears on-screen informing the audience how many race crimes are committed against Turks in Germany each year. The film has absolutely not, by any stretch of the imagination, earned the right to preach to the audience in this way. It's almost as if Akin forgot he was trying to make something political, only remembering in time to throw together a vaguely worded statement on the sufferings of his people in an effort to give the audience something to think about. It doesn't work, with the statement serving only to trivialise the issue by trying to tie it to a film in which it barely featured, and it leaves a decidedly bitter aftertaste.