This austere portrait of a Muslim family living in Vienna isn't perfect, but shows promise in director Umut Dag.
The debut feature from Michael Haneke protégé Umat Dag has already been compared to Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation following its initial screening at the Berlin Film Festival. While it's a fair comparison in terms of theme, offering up a compelling (if flawed) portrait of a dysfunctional, modern day Muslim-Turk family living in Vienna, its execution lacks the finesse of the Iranian maestro's work.
We open to a seemingly happy wedding celebration in the Turkish countryside where the innocently attractive Ayse (Begüm Akkaya) finds herself selected as the bride of the ruggedly handsome if nuptially apathetic Hasan (Murathan Muslu), son of the domineering if extreme Fatma (Nihal G Koldas), a bullish mother-in-law if ever there was one. Already from this moment we get a sense that all is not well in this arrangement.
Flying back to the family’s home of Vienna, we quickly realise that the wedding was a ploy and that Ayse is actually intended as a second wife for Fatma’s husband Mustafa (Vedat Erincin). We see Fatma in the kitchen after leaving her husband on the pullout bed in the living room with the young girl. Fatma sips her tea and we are provided with the sound of creaky bedsprings and looks of gleeful relaxation from Fatma. It's very disturbing.
As can be imagined, the blend of disquieting moments make for a full-blooded drama. Such moments pull together various tense story strands and juxtapose the traditional and modern value systems. The dwindling dominance of Fatma and the rising influence of Ayse become a chess-like battle of wills for survival.
The material is ripe, but Dag fails to contain it in a way that makes the tale successful and coherent. His indulgent use of fade to black (clearly meant to create an episodic structure) often falls at the wrong moment, thus destroying the impact of what we are watching. He also attempts to throw in the odd curve ball (a weak homosexual subplot and the odd obvious twist) that falls flat. So whilst he presents the players surrounded by an abundance of relevant and controversial themes, he is yet unable to weave these into a narrative that will hold our attention.
Has been compared to Asghar Farhadi's A Separation. High praise indeed.
This tale of modern versus traditional, age versus beauty is compelling enough.
Lacks a structure that serves the narrative to the level it deserves, but Dag is certainly one to watch.