I've been to and/or watched at home several movies over the last couple weeks. The end of the summer, in my book, has been great for the big, mainstream movies. I've rarely laughed as hard as I did at Snakes on a Plane, Talladega Nights and (probably the funniest of them all) Beerfest. (I'll write about the other two in the next couple days.) All of them light, fun and simply pure entertainment.
None of those words would describe Fratricide, which opened today for at least two weeks at Film Forum here in New York. Director Yilmaz Arslan's powerful and angry but most-of-all tragic film is an attempt to depict the immigrant's experience, but not one that American audiences are used to seeing. The story follows two young Kurds who befriend each other after taking the harrowing and deadly illegal trip to Germany. Azad (Erdal Celik) is a teenager whose brother, already living in Germany, sends money home to allow him to travel. In Germany, he has become a barber, giving haircuts in shaves in a grungy bathroom at the back of a bar. When the younger Ibo (Xevat Getcan) shows up at the shelter, Azad takes him under his wing, treating him like the younger sibling he left back at home.
The conflict in the story comes from three separate directions, all familial and/or cultural; the first from within as Azad's relationship with his brother isn't exactly a strong one. Second, Azad wants to go about things his own way, however he is regularly pressured by an organization of Kurds who act like a guerilla civil rights group. And finally, there are the Turks, immigrants also to Germany, but with a superiority complex, just like in their home country. The Turks are represented in the film first through two brothers who are not much better than hoods. The film starts seemingly telling three different stories that seem completely unrelated, but as Arslan lets the sequence of events play out, the culture clash becomes explosive and violent.
The key sequence in the middle of the film is one I won't reveal other than saying that it came at me a bit like a Fat Girl moment. (I may have mentioned this before, but to me, a Fat Girl moment is a quick, shocking -- even horrifying -- completely unexpected and out-of-nowhere event that makes your jaw drop and your body go rigid. Additionally, it's usually over before you've had any time to process what has happened. In Fat Girl, it comes at the very end. There's one in Cache as well.) There's a stabbing, but that's not the WTF moment.
Fratricide is another in a long line of films describing the inevitability of violence begetting violence. Revenge, payback, whatever ... all of the characters in the film seem powerless to stop the cycle. Azad is a good kid; he simply wants to make some money, help his family back home, and live comfortably. Early on we see how selfless he is, not just in taking Ibo into his care, but in making Ibo, who has his own tragic secret, feel like a useful part of their enterprise. And yet, when the story reaches its climax, it's nearly impossible to see how it could end any other way.
The saddest element of this story, however, is probably also the most obvious. The Kurds have long been an ethnic group without an official homeland. Turkey has consistently laid claim to their tract of land the Kurds consider Kurdistan. Another part of Kurdistan is part of Iraq. The Kurdish group in the film seems to be similar to so many American civil rights groups from the 1960s, like the Black Panthers. And yet, the one thing that struck me was how similar the father of the two Turkish brothers -- a well-meaning older man who runs a small grocery store -- looked to Azad's father living in a hut in the middle of the wilderness in Kurdistan. These people may be ethnically different, but essentially they're the same, all of them trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. In that way, I suppose the immigrant experience of Fratricide isn't, in fact, so different from what we're used to seeing.