It is hard enough for a woman to make the decision to leave a marriage. But what if she doesn’t have a skill or an education? What if she has a young child? What if that child is being mistreated? What if she’s Muslim?
It is important to note right from the beginning of this review that many Muslin men are faithful, honorable, supportive and even humble in their marriage relationships. It is also important to note that a blessing in a tightly knit Muslim community is a religiously-based cultural tradition that honors and supports the family unit.
That being noted, we are also familiar with patriarchal dominance in the Arab-Muslim world. Women, though outwardly revered and protected, do not always have the same legal rights as men under some interpretations of the Muslim Sharia system.
This carefully portrayed film examines what happens when a husband misuses (from a Western perspective) his dominance and power. What options do Muslim women from conservative communities have in unhappy or abusive marriages?
Interestingly, while this film begins in Turkey where the protagonist is living with her husband, she ends up with her son in Germany, where her parents live and where there is a state-supported safe house system for women.
Feo Aladag was inspired to write the screenplay for “When We Leave” after participating in Amnesty International’s “Violence Against Women” campaign. Her specific interest in honor killings led her to write this sensitive drama of a beautiful, intelligent and somewhat plucky young woman, played with agonizing passion by Sibel Kekilli, a German actress born in Turkey.
With the opening scenes in Turkey, the viewer understands that the lovely Umay (Kekilli) cannot accept the uncontrollable rages of her husband. “When We Leave” is the story of her life after she takes her young son and leaves to live, unannounced, with her parents in Berlin.
When confronted with the disapproval of their Muslim community, Ulmay’s parents, who demonstrably love their daughter very much, are faced with social and ethical challenges. One character dismally tries to explain to Umay that whenever there is a struggle between the community and the child, the community always wins.
Umay cannot accept that. Her family knows she’s a good person. Her mother sees the marks of abuse on Umay’s back. Her two younger siblings, a brother and sister, love her dearly and crave her attention. Her cute little son is devoted and she is a loving mother. Her father, a good husband and parent, is obviously conflicted.
So, what will be the stronger card, love or honor? What will have the greater pull, family or community?
Aladag’s tenderly portrayed story, exploring the passionate feelings of the members of Umay’s family, has been selected by Germany as its entry in the 2011 Oscar competition for Best Foreign Film. It deserves this recognition, not only for examining a sensitive and potentially inflammatory topic, but for telling it well and with compassion for all sides.
This past spring “When We Leave” won the Tribeca Film Festival Founder’s Award for Best Narrative Feature. Also, Sibell Kekilli won Tribeca’s award for Best Actress in a Narrative Feature.
There are few films, particularly in the mainstream, that can possibly be more meaningful, beautiful and thought-provoking this year than “When We Leave.” It is currently featured in three ongoing film festivals and it is winning awards.
Hamptons International Film Festival: Oct. 9 to 11
Mill Valley Film Festival: Oct. 16 to 17
German Currents, Los Angeles: Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m. Egyptian, Opening Night; Oct. 24, 2 p.m. Aero, Santa Monica
DIRECTOR: Feo Aladag
SCREENPLAY: Feo Aladag
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Judith Kaufmann
CAST: Sibel Kekilli, Derya Alabora, Blanca Apilanez Fernandez, Tamer Yigit, Florian Lukas, Serhad Can
PRODUCTION: Independent Artists Filmproduktion/Berlin
RELEASE: 11 March 2010 (Germany); Film will open in NYC and LA – JANUARY 2011
RUNTIME: 119/123 minutes
GENRE: Feature Narrative
OTHER TITLES: Die Fremde (original German title) and Ayrilik (Turkish title)
AWARDS: Tribeca The Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature, and Best Actress
Lola (the German equivalent of an Oscar) for Best Picture and Best Actress
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