Umay is a young woman of Turkish descent, fighting for an independent and self-determined life in Germany against the resistance of her family. Her struggle initiates a dynamic, which results in a life-threatening situation.
German-born Umay flees her oppressive marriage in Istanbul, taking her young son Cem with her. She hopes to find a better life with her family in Berlin, but her unexpected arrival creates intense conflict. Her family is trapped in their conventions, torn between their love for her and the traditional values of their community. Ultimately they decide to return Cem to his father in Turkey. To keep her son, Umay is forced to move again. She finds the inner strength to build a new life for herself and Cem, but her need for her family's love drives her to a series of ill-fated attempts at reconciliation. What Umay doesn't realize is just how deep the wounds have gone and how dangerous her struggle for self-determination has become... Written by
Independent Artists Filmproduktion
a film like a landmine, unfortunately close to the truth
The treatment of Muslim societies in the media in general and in film in particular has been subject to much agenda setting and bias. On the one hand, this has led to frequently arrogant defamation of the cultures of one fifth of humanity, on the other hand, the discourse has helped to highlight problems of Muslim integration which are often ignored under the convenient excuse of multiculturalism. What is more important: respect for other cultures living among us or concern for the plight of the individual subjected to an excessive chauvinism that allows for nothing but submission to it?
Feo Aladag's position on this is clear, but she avoids simplifications by sticking to one woman's story, and keeping that story close, while not identical, to the events that inspired it - namely the much publicized 2005 murder of Hatun Sürücü in Berlin, albeit with a surprising twist. Some may find the depictions of a regressive macho cult in German-Turkish families and social life exaggerated, especially since the acting of the supporting cast is a bit shaky at times. But as someone who has lived in a Turkish neighborhood in Berlin, I have to declare it's not. It's disturbingly close to the truth - not the distorted truth of tabloids, but the truth of people I'm close to.
The minimalistic approach of the film would usually render it a rather harmless affair, in spite of its controversial subject matter - were it not for Sibel Kekilli's outstanding performance, for which she received, among other awards, best actress at the Tribeca festival. Her heartfelt, knowing and yet forgiving gaze at the suffocating world she lives in speaks of personal experience with the role she portrays. 'When we leave' establishes her as the most exciting German actress of today.
It should be noted, by the way, that Islamic law does not condone honorary murders and considers these just as much as crimes as Western law does. Also, this practice is not exclusive to Muslim societies, but used to be widespread in Christian countries as well, where it might still occur as a justification for homicide. But these clarifications could not have been included in this film, which tells one story, and tells it well.
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