Director Feo Aladag presents When We Leave. The film won the Lola (the German equivalent of an Oscar) for Best Picture and Sibel Kekilli won the Lola for Best Actress. The film’s original title is Die Fremde which translates to ‘the stranger’ in English. This is Umay’s (Sibel Kekilli) tale. She is a German born woman of Turkish descent, caught between two worlds. She was born into one, a world governed my tradition and men, in which she is expected to be subservient to her husband and her community. Yet, she wants to be a part of another, a new modern western world, in which she is independent and self-determined. Here in lays the conflict.
As When We Leave opens, we watch a young woman, a young man, and a small boy walking down a nondescript street in complete silence. The women looks tenderly at the young man and affectionately touches him on the back. Yet, the silent itself creates a palatable tension, despite the tenderness the women clearly feels for the man. With pain in his eyes, the young man pulls a gun and points it at the woman. In short order we learn that Umay is the women, the man is her younger brother Acar (Serhad Can) and the little boy is her son Cem (Nizam Schiller).
From this scene we are spun to the beginning of the narrative where we find Umay in an abusive marriage in Istanbul. To escape the oppressive relationship she with her son flees to her family in Berlin. Umay is surprised to find that her desire to be a free and independent women triggers a conflict that threatens to shred the fabric of her family and creates a situation that she is ultimately unable to control. Each of her attempts to seek resolution with her family only serves to rent the family further apart. Umay’s attempt to reconcile the values of her community and her internal conflict is intensely moving. Ultimately, if there is to be a bridge between the old world and the new, Umay has to create it. As the film unfolds, Umay learns that in a world where tradition and honor mean everything, there is a great price to be paid for breaking with the old ways.
This is a universal story that any community, generation or individual struggling to hold on to tradition while embracing new ideas will be able to relate to. When We Leave is filled with real emotion: the desire to be free, the desire to protect one’s child and the desire to live fully. Yet, the power of the film is only possible because of the performances of each of the actors. Each of the characters are extremely conflicted. Each of the actors convincingly portrays roles filled with emotions that are often inconsistent and incompatible. This film could easily have been a film that demonizes a people, but instead it show their humanity despite being in a cultural milieu that is extremely complicated.
Cast: Sibel Kekilli (Umay), Nizam Schiller (Cem – Umay’s son), Settar Tanriögen (Kader – Umay’s father), Derya Alabora (Halime – Umay’s mother), Tamer Yigit (Mehmet – Umay’s older brother), Serhad Can (Acar – Umay’s younger brother), Almila Bagriacik (Rana – Umay’s younger sister), Alwara Höfels (Atife – Umay’s best friend), Nursel Köse (Gül – Umay’s boss), Florian Lukas (Stipe – Umay’s colleague), Ufuk Bayraktar (Kemal – Umay’s husband), full cast and crew.
Release Date: 11 March 2010 (Germany). Written and directed by Feo Aladag; Majestic Filmverleih. Running time: 119 minutes; MPAA Rated NR; genre: Drama/Foreign.
Playing at the 15th Annual Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, Saturday, October 24th, 2010 at 7:00 PM at the Castro Theatre.