There is a recurring theme found in Fatih Akin’s films: a relentless, resilient search that does not let up. The search results in a journey laden with obstacles, the most prominent of which is destiny. Destiny often denies the searcher what he’s looking for in part, but offers new hope of attaining it if the search persists and the journey is extended.
Such is the case with Akin’s latest release, The Cut, which was screened on Monday as the Cairo International Film Festival’s opening film in its Arabic and African section.
Set in the early twentieth century, the story offers a window onto the Armenian genocide which started in 1915 and led to the death of between 1 and 1.5 Million Armenians and consequently their displacement across the world.
The story follows Nazaret Manoogian, an Armenian blacksmith played by Tahar Rahim, who is separated from his family when he is forced into labour for the Ottoman empire. He survives the mass killings but loses his ability to speak and begins to search for his family members who he learns were on a death march. When he finds out that his daughters are alive, he resumes his journey searching for his daughters once again.
The film follows the same lines as Akin’s previous films, Head On (2004) and Edge of Heaven (2007), but this time the characters are simpler, the motives more obvious, and destiny less harsh. In a sense, the tension is more watered down. Compared to his similar previous work, this picture has less suspense, perhaps replaced by atrocities casually mentioned in passing as we follow Nazaret.
As we follow the journey, and witness the atrocities, we are speechless just like Nazaret who lost his ability to speak, as though he is also simply just watching like us as the tragedy unfolds. In light of all he has experienced, Nazaret loses love, and proceeds to throw rocks up into heaven, angry at a God who was also silent in the face of such atrocities.
Silence is an ongoing theme throughout, and one of the most moving scenes is as Nazaret watches Charlie Chaplain’s The Kid, a silent movie, which moves him to tears. It is as though even despite the silence, the motion alone can move you.
The epic journey of Nazaret takes us through different lands and landscapes. The film captures the alienating deserts of Turkey as well as the populated but elegantly architected Cuba. The film visits various parts of Asia and the Americas. It is a big production and shows Akin’s craftsmanship.
Akin depicts soldiers as systematic criminals, and Nazaret found friendships in those considered by society as criminals and deserters. Oddly, Nazaret is not able to make friendships he has made wherever he has travelled with Americans, only with Armenians living in America.
We catch a glimpse of what genocide means when Armenians are asked to face the wall and kneel. The commanding officer then says, “don’t waste bullets,” as his subordinates proceed immediately with simultaneous cutting their throats. But perhaps what stands out most is that there is something worse than the killings captured by The Cut. It is the ugliness of the world and witnessing it and being unable to do anything to stop the evil.
Armenians weren’t just slaughtered; they were chased, starved, raped and sold as property. The film depicts instances of these atrocities, for example, we watch a death march passing before a labour camp, and bandits target and rape a woman in front of the labourers and soldiers, and soldiers protected the bandits from the labourers who thought of stopping the rape. We are taken to a camp after a death march where people are begging to die to end their misery. It is in these atrocious details that we can see what a genocide means, not as whole but to an individual who has to deal with the aftermath.
Yet with all that comes the story of survival in the face of all the ugliness in the world, the survival through a dream, and the love of a father for his daughters. Survival through finding friendships in the least expected places. The Cut is not primarily about the killing of Armenians during the genocide, but rather their survival after. It is a tale about one man’s journey and his search for a home having been deprived of one.
Check the festival's complete programme and Ahram Online's recommendations