Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie with Abe: When We Leave

When We Leave
Directed by Feo Aladag
Released January 28, 2011

This year’s Best Foreign Film submission from Germany didn’t become an Oscar nominee or even make the list of nine finalists, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t absolutely deserve a place among the top five foreign films of the year. “When We Leave” is a rather straightforward story about a Muslim woman who leaves her abusive Turkish husband and takes her young son with her, hoping to find refuge at her family’s home in Berlin. Yet what awaits her is just as insufferable, if not more, than what she left. It may be a simple premise but it’s a marvelously complicated and deeply engaging and affecting film.

Though the protagonist, Umay, is Muslim, traveling from Turkey to Germany, this is a story that could be related to by any person embedded within a strong cultural observance. Umay’s abandonment of her wifely duties is seen as a black mark of shame on her family’s honor, and those she thought she could turn to for comfort end up treating her just as coldly as the husband she had to leave. Yet it’s hardly a black and white matter. Her father, her mother, and both of her brothers each have conflicted loyalties, and their lives are torn apart by their love for Umay and the shame her act has brought upon their family in the community.

The performances in “When We Leave” are immensely raw and devastatingly real. The entire ensemble works together to craft a haunting portrait of a family that might seem to function better than most, but cannot hope to handle a crisis that comes into direct opposition with the norms of its culture. The standout, unsurprisingly, is Sibel Kekilli, who embodies Umay with humanity, kindness, and a sense of justice that doesn’t seem to be present in any of her family members. It’s heartbreaking to watch Umay so courageously defy the limitations of her society and then be so cruelly shunned by those she loves. The film doesn’t try to over-dramatize any of its events, and it’s up to the actors to convey the pain and agony they feel as a result of their unfortunate situation. When countries submit what they consider their best film of the year as a contender for the Oscars, it’s a chance to see a snapshot of what a particular nation and culture has to offer. This powerful, tragic, moving film is an mesmerizing example of a film doing just that, and excelling at it.


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