Daily | Venice 2014 | Fatih Akin’s THE CUT

The Cut

‘The Cut’

Earlier this month, a Turkish nationalist group issued an open threat to Fatih Akin. His new film, The Cut, which has just premiered in competition in Venice, would never screen in a single theater in Turkey, and what’s more: “We are following the developments with our white caps and Azerbaijani flags.” Those white caps are an overt reference to the white cap worn by Ogün Samast the day he assassinated Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January 2007. As Scott Roxborough notes in the Hollywood Reporter today, Akin’s playing it down: “You have one Tweet by some group and then it kicks off a media avalanche. I’m not taking it too seriously.”

Akin had, in fact, intended to make a film about Dink. He wrote the screenplay and showed it to five Turkish actors he was considering for the lead role. “And all of them were nervous about the script,” he tells Stephen Heyman in the New York Times. “I don’t want to hurt anybody, I don’t live in Turkey, in a way I am safe, protected. But these actors, maybe they’d have some problems. No film is worth that.”

And so, he reimagined the project as a fictional feature. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, The Cut “film begins in Mardin, a city in southeastern Turkey, where, on a night in 1915, Turkish police round up all the Armenian men, separating the blacksmith Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim) from his family. So begins what most refer to as the Armenian Genocide; most men were either killed outright or died while being forced to work for the Ottomans, while the women and children were led on death marches to the Syrian desert. In April, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan took the world by surprise when he offered what Reuters called ‘unprecedented condolences’ to the living descendants of the estimated one to 1.5 million Armenians who died 99 years ago. In The Cut, Nazaret survives and learns years later that his twin daughters are still alive as well. His search for them takes him from the Mesopotamian desert to the prairies of North Dakota—via Havana and other points not exactly in between.”

Akin tells Heyman that he’s “shown the film to people who deny the fact that 1915 was a genocide and to people who accept it and both groups had the same emotional impact. I hope the film could be seen as a bridge. For sure there are radical groups, fascist groups, who fear any kind of reconciliation. And the smaller they are, the louder they bark.”

Akin, born in Germany to Turkish parents, won the Golden Bear and the FIPRESCI Prize for Head-On (Gegen die Wand) ten years ago in Berlin and a Best Screenplay award in Cannes in 2007 for The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite). The Cut completes his Love, Death and the Devil trilogy and is his first film in English, which as he tells the Hollywood Reporter‘s Ariston Anderson, “was absolutely necessary for the freedom of the casting. I needed more than a translator. I needed a screenwriter who had knowledge about the material. So the name Mardik Martin, who has an Armenian background, came up quite quickly. Mardik Martin is the former writer of such immortal films as [Martin Scorsese’s] New York, New York, Mean Streets and Raging Bull…. Once he was involved, it was clear that it was not just about finding the right language. Mardik turned everything upside down and cut the budget, so making the film became realistic.”

It’s still “a big, ambitious, continent-spanning piece of work, concerned to show the Armenian horror was absorbed into the bloodstream of immigrant-descended population in the United States,” notes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, “but it is a little simplistic emotionally, especially in its latter half as the film trudges across America with its hero. It doesn’t have the sophisticated nuance and wit of Akin’s contemporary German-language movies” but is nonetheless “a forceful, watchable, strongly presented picture and a courageous, honest gesture from Fatih Akin.”

In the Hollywood Reporter, Boyd van Hoeij notes that “the narrative continues through 1923, pushing the fate of a people into the background for a rather generic search-and-survival story…. Akin was clearly aiming for an epic in the David Lean/Elia Kazan mold, with possibly some touches of the more sweetly melodramatic side of Chaplin because his protagonist can’t speak. But exactly because the main character literally loses his voice early on, the film doesn’t allow for easy audience identification.”

For the Playlist‘s Jessica Kiang, The Cut is “close to a disaster…. The dialogue is awful, stilted and dry, with the actors trying to to wrestle naturalism into a non-native tongue rendered into colloquial speech about as convincingly as Google Translate might. It can be unintentionally comic… Rainer Klausman‘s cinematography is handsome, but all else is folly: grandiose, self-serious, and dull. But worst of all, it’s an opportunity squandered: 2002’s “Ararat” aside, the world has waited a long time for a major film that gets to the heart of one of the worst-reported atrocities of the 20th Century. Guess we’re going to have to wait a bit longer.”

Updates: “Considering its predominantly Middle Eastern setting and largely non-natively-English-speaking cast, it’s possible to interpret this as a conscious move towards a more conventional, awards-baiting brand of filmmaking,” writes Adam Woodward at Little White Lies. “Akin may not be the first European director to fall into this trap, but few before him have made the descent seem so steep…. In terms of literal scale, this is Akin’s most ambitious work. But it’s a total mess.”

“Akin clearly wants The Cut to be informative, a fine thing considering the ridiculous contesting in some quarters of the genocide’s extent,” writes Jay Weissberg for Variety. “That’s why intro titles explain the German-Ottoman Empire alliance during WWI, when minorities under the Turks became enemies overnight. But why did this happen? Without at least some hint of why minorities, and Armenians in particular, were falsely considered a threat, The Cut turns into an elementary-school history lesson, providing rudimentary facts without connecting any dots.”

“There’s a piece of slang used on the website TV Tropes that regrettably applies to much of The Cut,” writes Catherine Bray at HitFix. “That word is ‘narm.’ Narm is defined as a moment that is supposed to be serious or tear-jerking, but due to poor execution becomes unintentionally funny. The Cut is unfortunately the narmiest drama I’ve seen at Venice.”

“A well-behaved and unashamedly populist film, the kind that could be shown in schools and community centers, Akin’s The Cut remains an undeniably important film regardless,” argues John Bleasdale at CineVue. “What it does extremely well is to movingly illustrate a terrible moment in history which has been sadly neglected in the West and actively suppressed in other parts of the world.”

Updates, 9/1: The Cut is “a more abstract and philosophical endeavor than anticipated, only to a certain extent concerned with illustrating the brutality of the Armenian Massacres,” writes Tommaso Tocci at the Film Stage. “Nazaret’s journey doesn’t just survive a conflict; in some ways, it blazes through the entire 20th century in the span of a few years…. There’s a shadow of the muscular, old-school epic walking alongside The Cut, but I don’t think Akin can really do a straightforward epic, ever. His sensibility is more heterogenous than that, which is why the gigantic scale and the literalization of his key ‘journey back home’ theme don’t really mesh.”

Akin’s film is “much grander than Ararat, the 2002 film in which Atom Egoyan addressed the Armenian genocide,” grants Kaleem Aftab at Indiewire. “Sadly, fortune doesn’t always favor the brave: Akin ultimately fails to make the material work, especially in the second half of the film, when it develops into a disappointing adventure story.”

“It’s more of a mini-series than a film,” suggests the BBC’s Nicholas Barber. “The downside of this structure is that the plot doesn’t seem to get underway for an hour-and-a-quarter, and yet when it does, the film’s most powerful and horrific sequences have been and gone. The actual quest for the girls feels drawn-out and anticlimactic in comparison.”

Update, 9/2: “Owing a declared debt to Elia Kazan’s Turkish emigration tale America, America,” writes Lee Marshall at Screen Daily, “The Cut is a tribute to old-fashioned filmmaking values in its confident widescreen look and detailed, cast-of-hundreds historical reconstructions: every frame declares war on cinematic austerity. And yet despite the heady sweep through ten years and two continents, and the (surprisingly muted) emotional catharsis of the quest plotline, there’s something about the film’s generous old-school spend that leaves us feeling short-changed.”

Update, 9/4: The Cut “falls mysteriously flat straight out of the blocks,” finds Tom Christie at Thompson on Hollywood.

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