Moviemaker Fatih Akin, born to Turkish parents, lives in Germany. His latest work, The Cut, just screened at the 71st edition of the Venice International Film Festival, which is now on. The final part of a trilogy, called Love, Death and the Devil, The Cut tackles the 1915 Armenian genocide that took place in the Ottoman Empire and in which 1.5 million men, women and children died.
Akin's hero in The Cut is Nazaret, played by that brilliant French-Algerian actor, Tahar Rahim (A Prophet), who is separated from his wife and two twin daughters and forced into back-breaking labour. Years later, when World War I ends, Nazaret, travels from country to country, continent to continent trying to find his lost family. His journey takes him to Germany, Cuba, Malta and the US.
Mostly in English, The Cut is old fashioned in the leisurely way it narrates the pain and pathos of Nazaret as he desperately seeks to find his wife and daughters, even going as far as robbing a rich man to pay the passage on one occasion.
And although The Cut has not gone too well with a section of the population in Turkey that lives in denial of the 1915 massacre, many others and Turkey itself are now beginning to come around to admitting that a horrible thing happened. As Akin tells HT in Venice on September 3, he showed the script to two of his friends. One said the movie would be met with stones. The other felt that it would be showered with flowers. "This is what it is. Bullets and roses. I have shown the film to people who deny the fact that what happened in 1915 was a genocide and to people who accept that it was indeed so. I hope the movie could be seen at least as a bridge," Akin contends.
The Cut is a very personal film for Akin, because "I feel responsible for this dark chapter in Turkish history. Mind you the genocide happened with Germany witnessing it. I am Turkish and I now live in Germany, and these make me in some way responsible for the terrible episode."
What really disturbed Akin for many, many years was that nothing was spoken about the genocide, nothing written, and people, including his family, lived as if nothing ever happened in 1915. "Others may or may not agree with me - and this includes my own father -- but I call it genocide. The greatest challenge for me, therefore, was to try and make a movie that will convince my father. So The Cut is very personal for me," Akin avers.
Yes, but what about the young people in Turkey. Do they admit that it was indeed a genocide? Do they at all care? "I think they do. A civil movement began in 2007 following the murder of the Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, by a teenage Turkish nationalist, and a lot of young people are part of this movement. They stage plays, write articles, organise debates and discussions - all in to order to set right a wrong. All this is pushing Ankara to agree that there was a massacre of Armenians. My film can be seen as part of this movement, although I am not a part of it. I have not spearheaded it in any sort of way."
Is there regret, even vague regret in Turkey? Akin says that there is no regret - as of now - but there is reflection. "Everything begins with reflection… This is human psychology. If there is a trauma, reflection is the first step towards reconciliation and admittance and solution."
Akin adds, "We are a result of our past. We have to put our past in order. Otherwise there will not be any peace in the present. This is why there is so much of problem in the Middle East."
For Akin, The Cut is not only about trying to use cinema as one step towards helping people realise the horrendous crimes they could have committed, but also a "personal journey" through the kind of movies he loved, Westerns especially, and the directors he has always admired. The work of Elia Kazan's America, America, that of Sergio Leone (the way he framed his shots) and those of Martin Scorsese have deeply influenced his craft. "I wrote The Cut with Mardik Martin, who also penned Scorsese's Mean Street and the first draft of Raging Bull. Martin is an Armenian."
Akin researched for almost seven years for The Cut and found the diaries of many Armenians who migrated to Havana in the early 1920s, and the diaries contained elaborate details about death camps and death marches. Armenian women and children were forced to walk without food and water to the Syrian desert, and most of them died. Men were conscripted into the army or had to do build roads with very little nourishment.