Multilingualism and the arts

Drive not Drabness

Kebab Connection; Copyright: WÜSTE Film, Fotograf: Georges PaulyThe Edge of Heaven; Copyright: Pandora-Film„I am a child of European cinema,“ said Fatih Akin on receiving the European Film Award 2007 in Berlin for his film The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite) – what better way to sum up the situation at the moment. German-Turkish cinema has been „en vogue“ for years now, even before Akin won the „Golden Bear“ for Head On (Gegen die Wand) at the Berlin Film Festival in 2004. It has managed to free itself from the fetters of its separatist beginnings and in the meantime has been discovered by an open-minded, mainstream audience.

No more angry, socio-critical images

Run Out; Copyright: Zorro Film GmbHThe days of immigrant cinema being impact cinema for minorities are gone. Films by directors of Turkish origin dominate the immigration movie scene, other directors from North Africa, Iran, the former Soviet sphere or Asia play a subordinate role, focusing mostly – if at all – on documentary films. In this field however it is for the most part German filmmakers who seem to be particularly fascinated by the topic. For example, in Alexander Riedel’s documentary film Run Out (Draussen Bleiben) there are two young girls who have to run out and stay out. The friendship between a young Kosovar girl from a refugee hostel and her friend, a Uighur girl, helps them both to find some sense of belonging, although they are both caught between childhood and growing up, between their new home in which they still do not feel at home and their old home that has nothing more to offer them. They want to stay and belong, if only they would let them. Although the film shows the ugliness of the refugee hostel, it does without any angry, socio-critical images; it does not try to give people a bad conscience or depict foreigners as persecuted victims. The protagonists show courage and strength, it is their drive and not the drabness of their lives that determine the way they act, they do not surrender themselves to their fate, but grab it by the horns.

Unveiled; Copyright: Ventura-FilmIn her feature film Unveiled (Fremde Haut /2005) Angelina Maccarone tells the story of an asylum seeker in Germany without any of the usual clichés. It describes the fate of a young lesbian from Iran who has managed to flee to Germany from her intolerant, theocratic homeland. In Germany she takes on the identity of an Iranian man who was also trying to escape and then goes on to fall in love with a blonde woman she works with in the Swabian backwoods of southern Germany. It is not just a personal drama, but also a glimpse of the reality for asylum-seekers in Germany – reception centres, never-ending interviews and transition camps.

German-Turkish cinema dominates

Chico; Copyright: Maria Krumwiede/Corazón InternationalGerman-Turkish cinema has been a fixed term since the 1990s. According to the German Film Institute it is not only „part of an international phenomenon, the ‘cinema du métissage’ (cinema of the in-between), but also an indication that Turks are developing a new, more self-confident standing on the German cultural scene“. This second and third generation of immigrants behind the camera has given German cinema a new lease of life and goes way beyond depicting what it is like to be a foreigner in another society, as was the case in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The directors, both male and female, feel they are part of Germany, no longer the children of what used to be known as „guest workers“; they merge their way of life and their way of viewing things into the intercultural cosmos. The line between what is home and what is foreign has become blurred, but without anybody having to give up their identity. It is not a case of whitewashing, but more a matter of relentlessly bringing up the painful subjects of having to cope with life between two cultures, of making a niche in life for oneself and of forging links between the past, present and the future.

Subjects of all kinds

Kebab Connection; Copyright: WÜSTE Film, Fotograf: Georges Pauly In his film Kebab Connection (2004), with a script by Fatih Akin and Ruth Thoma, Anno Saul, from Bonn, illustrates the clash of cultures with the help of all kinds of colourful, linguistic fracas, misunderstandings „on the street“ and total chaos. Alongside a love story and a family comedy there are a few other plot sidelines where „the Turk“ and „the Greek“ compete for business for their restaurants and prejudices abound ad absurdem, even if the message is being driven home with a sledgehammer, rather than being subtly implied. In the first film she directed, Tour Abroad (Auslandstournee /2000), Ayse Polat already focused on the difficult situation of a Turkish pop singer who was an outsider. In her film En garde (2004) the Kurdish director describes the fate of a 16-year-old German girl whose mother puts her away in a Catholic student hostel and who makes friends there with a young Kurdish girl who is waiting for the decision on her application for asylum. Özgür Yildirim from Hamburg, in his first feature film Chiko (2007), gives us a rather unsettling, bloody treatment of a gangster drama set in the Kiez, Hamburg’s red-light district - the rise and fall of a small-time criminal of Turkish origin in the drug-dealing milieu. In a combination of social environment study and action drama Yildirim depicts the fatal consequences of an exaggerated code of honour – the ambivalence between morals, mosques and machismo.

Harrowing - Yilmaz Arslan’s Fratricide (Brudermord), the tragedy of a young Kurd who follows his brother to Germany and gets into a messy situation with two Turks that sets off a chain of violent events. Despite all the brutality it is in fact a plea to put an end to racism and intolerance.

A sign of integration

The fact that young German-Turks make films that have nothing to do with their immediate reality, or what we think their reality is, is not only interesting, but also to be seen as a sign of them being integrated. In his coming-of-age drama Elephant Heart (Elefantenherz /2003) Züli Aladag, winner of the Grimme Award for his controversial TV film Rage (Wut /2005), focused on an up-and-coming German boxer who falls prey to a sleazy boxing promoter (his friend is the only Turk in the film).

The Edge of Heaven /Auf der anderen Seite
By Fatih Akin
Germany 2007

Fratricide /Brudermord
By Yilmaz Arslan
Germany/Luxembourg/France 2005

By Özgür Yildirim
Germany 2007

Run Out /Draußen bleiben
By Alexander Riedel
Germany 2007

Elephant Heart /Elefantenherz
By Züli Aladag
Germany 2003

En garde
By Ayse Polat
Germany 2004

Unveiled /Fremde Haut
By Angelina Maccarone
Germany/Austria 2005

Head On /Gegen die Wand
By Fatih Akin
Germany 2004

Kebab Connection
By Anno Saul
Germany 2004

Margret Köhler
is a film journalist in Munich.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Online-Redaktion

Any questions about this article? Please write to us!
July 2008

Related links

Migration and Integration

Migration is changing cultures. The Goethe-Institut reflects these developments in Germany and around the world and dedicates its work to the linguistic integration of migrants.