Die Fremde (2011)

Written & Directed by Feo Aladag

This past year I took the 100 series of German language courses at my university. It was a great experience and I loved learning the language. One of the benefits, along with my love of film, was the introduction to some great German films. This particular film, a new one, was brought up by my 103 instructor, who praised it. So naturally I had to check it out. The film deals with immigration issues in Germany and the resulting culture clash, issues that have also arisen in a philosophy class I took that same quarter. So the intrigue of this film was more than I could bear to not seek it out.

The film follows Umay (Sibel Kekilli) who is the young wife of Kemal and mother of Cem. They live, not so happily, in Istanbul. When Kemal goes too far and Umay has had enough, she flees to Germany, where her family has migrated. But upon learning about her reasons, her family ostracizes her for shaming their family. Left to her own devices, a single mother and an immigrant in Germany, Umay struggles to come to grips with the grim reality of the customs of her Turkish family.

Writer/director Feo Aladag, in her debut feature, raises some interesting questions and makes some nice observations. The male-centric Turkish culture may be out of date in this modern world and Umay’s wishes and desires should not effect the dignity of an entire family, or the fate of her younger sister’s true romance, but they do. I mentioned my philosophy class earlier. In it, we discussed the flawed philosophy that right and wrong are determined on a culture to culture basis, and who are we to say that another culture is wrong? Like I said, it is flawed, but it does present an interesting case in some situations.

For instance, Umay is rebelling against her cultures view of right and wrong, attempting to stand up for her individual rights as a woman, whose rights are generally disregarded. It is an admirable attempt, but the manner in which she does it is somewhat tactless and she is only setting herself up for failure. Many of her actions are selfish, even to the point that Cem, the only true innocent in the story, is overlooked. Her family, while shunning her, does give her the ability to live her own life without them, yet Umay insists on getting everything that she wants, pretty much ruining her sister’s wedding just so that she can see her. In this regard, the film does not work. It has good intentions and does discuss/bring up important issues, but it does not handle them well. Plus they through in an under-developed pseudo-romance for seemingly no reason.

Other aspects of the film are quite admirable though. The cinematography for example is quite good. And a lot of credit should be given to the lead actress, Sibel Kekilli, who plays Umay with a of of heart and emotion. It’s just that the narrative and direction fail the material behind it. I truly feel sorry for Cem.

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