An Armenian Tragedy Western Style

in 71st Venice International Film Festival

by Eva Peydró

Fatih Akin presented in the Official Selection of the Mostra de Venezia the film The Cut, the first historical one in his filmography. The story starts in Mardin, an Armenian village where the main characters live: the locksmith Nazaret (Tahar Rahim), his wife and twin daughters, until the war comes to their peaceful lives, and drags him from home to serve in the Ottoman army as forced labour. The hardships, hunger and exhaustion undermine Nazareth and the other Armenian workers, so his captors decide to kill all of them because they have became useless for their function.

Miraculously, Nazaret saves his life and soon discovers that his daughters are still alive. From there, a series of adventures with small almost miraculous outcomes begin, turning into action as the movie takes the path of a road movie in tune with western genres.

The film’s tour, which leads Nazaret from Syria to Cuba, Florida and North Dakota, shows some of the characteristic themes of the director – the blending of cultures, immigration, rootlessness and adaptation in a different world, where racial and cultural fights can have different outcomes, from peaceful coexistence to genocide. However, the freshness and forcefulness that Fatih Akin showed in the winning first two films in his trilogy Head-On (Gegen die Wand) and The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite), which pleasantly shocked critics and public, seem fatally diluted.

Akin’s choice of a more classical narrative scheme and the adoption of a traditional film language undermine the power of the message. The self-imposed duty to follow the rules becomes submission to cliché, as the author seems unable to reformulate or redefine stylistically generic keys in a personal way, contributing with his own mark.

This straitjacket goes so far as to voice some topical dialogues, handle situations without conveying emotions such as loneliness, pain, helplessness or hope, and as a result we are not allowed to identify with the characters. The highlight of this is the general laughter in the stalls at two points that are supposed to denote maximum drama. The viewer interprets from a great distance what is intended, and that is when the unfortunate Nazareth is told that their daughters have just moved from the place they were supposed to live, without leaving a forwarding address.

The pace of the film is also neglected, the lack of suspense and emotion means that The Cut is too repetitive, monotonous and uninteresting, beyond logical curiosity for the end of the story. Fatih Akin does not achieve his aims of restoring the story of the persecuted nor the individual epic journey of its main character.

On the other hand, at the press conference, the Turkish-German director strongly praised the work of screenwriter Martin Mardik, who worked on Mean Streets and Raging Bull, recommended directly to Akin by Martin Scorsese (who also advised him on the edition).

Moreover, the excellent work of Tahar Rahim should be noted. The French-Algerian actor, characterized by its minimalist performances, here taken to the extreme, has to play a mute, because of a neck injury, paradoxically received when a stranger saves his life. Rahim strives to bring accuracy (there is an excellent sequence in which he is touched when watching his first film, Chaplin’s The Kid), to a story of searching, escape and survival, that unfortunately doesn’t end happily.

Edited by Derek Malcolm