When We Leave

a film by Feo Aladag

Perhaps I just cannot understand the motives of such people. A father, on being told by his daughter that her husband beats her, blowing it off as normal behavior, "He is your husband, he matter-of-factly tells her, she "belongs" to him now. A mother who would see her daughter back in the abuses of her relationship rather than disgrace the family by divorcing. A daughter who still wants to be in a family that disowns her as a whore, all because she no longer wishes to be beaten and abused. A family that would willingly choose their status in the community over the well being of their own child. Perhaps I just cannot understand such a patriarchal society that condones these things. Perhaps I should not be able to understand it. Perhaps I should be happy I am not part of such a society, such a culture. Unfortunately there are too many people that do understand it - or at the very least (or most) live it every day. These are the people, the women that must live in the shadow of dread, this movie was made for.

The idea of such a culture's so-called honor killings (never has a name been so full of oxymoronic dread) and the sociopolitical ramifications of such inexplicably horrific acts upon one's own sisters and daughters is one of the cornerstone battles of Amnesty International. Austrian-born German actress, and first-time director Feo Aladag (who has taken place in the aforementioned Amnesty International's "Violence Against Women" campaign) has taken this unfortunately all-too prevalent social dilemma, and turned it into a taut, occasionally intense, but quite conventional, message movie. Yet, it is Aladag's solid and oft-absorbing direction, and her use of space and timing in allowing her actors to give all they can without falling too deep into the abyss of stereotype (an abyss that could be inevitable in such a genre), keeps her film from becoming just another Lifetime-like diatribe on the horrors of violence against women. Perhaps this untested, but well-meaning director does hand us a movie - a message - that hits its viewers over the head with obviously choreographed twists and turns (never does anything here come as a surprise) but perhaps too, this is a message of which we need to be hit over the head.

The one thing that does truly keep Aladag's film from collapsing upon itself is the bravura central performance by Sibel Kekilli. The stunning (in both beauty and talent) German-born, Turkish actress first came to light in Fatih Akin's quite intense 2004 look at German-Turkish relationships, Head-On (these same inter-culture relationships are on display here as well). Here Kekilli gives a performance that is not only brutally tragic, but lined in a subtleness that belays the otherwise conventionally structured plot and obtrusive, but sadly necessary soapboxing. As a mother, her young son in constant tow, fleeing one abusive situation after another (no matter where she goes, her Patriarchal nightmares follow her), Kekilli hands in one of the finest performances of this year or last. Through terror, and occasional, brief moments of happiness, Kekilli's Umay is the proverbial rock that keeps this film from flying off in a gust of message-movie pretention - well-intentioned as it may very well be. Even in the inevitably tragic finale (and one can surely see this coming from moment one) the remarkably nuanced Kekilli is refreshingly real, as well as devastatingly heartbreaking. [02/17/11]