An Interview with Fatih Akin “Today, I feel like a Greek”

Director Akin in Athens: “I am a storyteller, not a politician”
Director Akin in Athens: “I am a storyteller, not a politician” | Photo: Vangelis Patsialos

With The Cut, Fatih Akin approaches a precarious topic: the genocide of Armenians. He now also presented the film in Greece. In our interview, the Hamburg filmmaker speaks about political films, his marriage to Turkey and his dalliance with Greece.

The film “The Cut” completes your “Love, Death and the Devil” trilogy in which you focus on Turkish society. How has the work on your trilogy changed your relationship with Turkey?

First there was disillusionment, then frustration and finally a certain distance. It’s now time to go our separate ways, for a creative separation. It’s like a marriage in which you still love your spouse, but simply can no longer live together. The subject is no longer fertile. Maybe in another ten years. It is frustrating, but there is something liberating about it.

The subject of the genocide of Armenians in “The Cut” would seem to automatically trigger antagonistic reactions in Turkey, yet it largely did not. Were you surprised?

It was not my intent to step on Turkish toes. The Cut shows the root of all evil in Turkish society from my point of view, the genocide of the Armenians that has not been come to terms with. Many people who see the film, even apolitical people or fascists, ask me, “Did we really do that?” These are the people I want to reach.

So, “The Cut” is a contribution to political education?

I don’t believe in political films as such. Cinema must surmount politics – or thesis and antithesis. I am a storyteller, not a politician. The Cut is genre and can therefore not be instrumentalized by anyone.

But aren’t you involved as a political person when your story is about genocide?

I don’t know whether I am a political person. I think my definition of politics is too peculiar for that. My father was a Grey Wolf, a fascist; I myself grew up with the dogmas of the Turkish leftists and with religious dogmas. There is no political ideal that I adhere to, no “ism.” Democracy is no exception to that. Anyway, we are experiencing the melting of democracy with Le Pen in France and Pegida in Germany. Democracy doesn’t come in the post; you have to work hard for it.

At the Athens premier of “The Cut,” you called it your most Greek film. Why?

The Cut has many Greek elements. Without Elia Kazan’s America America, the mother of all immigrant stories, The Cut would not exist as such. My film is a declaration of love to him and the cinema. I make much use of Greek dramaturgy and mythology, of Odysseus.

Does this make the film work better in Greece than elsewhere?

The Cut takes place during the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, which has special significance in Greece. The emotional reaction is accordingly strong. The Athens premier was like a big embrace for me, while in Venice many slapped me in the face.

You are often a guest in Athens with your films. How has the crisis changed the city in your eyes?

I am always here for such a short time that I don’t really witness how the crisis feels in everyday life. I read the newspaper and am unfortunately given only an incomplete picture. Whether I open the Bild or the Süddeutsche Zeitung, it’s all very one-sided and there is very little empathy involved. I’m no economist, but you can’t always make everything out as black and white. There are always fifty shades of grey.

Now that you’ve put Turkey behind you, when will you shoot your first film in Greece?

I could well imagine living here, so I can also imagine making films here. Today, I feel like a Greek. But, first of all I am working on a small film that is set in the here and now and in Berlin.

The interview was conducted by Gerasimos Bekas.

Fatih Akin, 41, from Hamburg, is presently one of Germany’s most renowned film directors. After initial success with Im Juli and Solino, his breakthrough came with Gegen die Wand (Head-On) in 2004 (Golden Bear, German Film Prize, European Film Prize). The film was the first part of a trilogy about love, death and the devil. Following Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven), the trilogy has now come to a close with The Cut. Last year, Turkish right-wing extremists threatened Akin because of the film about the genocide of Armenians. The Goethe-Institut Athens invited the filmmaker to Greece in late February to present The Cut.