Early word for this Austro-Turkish film production Kuma points wilful comparisons to Asghar Farhadi’s emotionally bruising masterpiece A Separation – and it’s no careless throwaway. Umut Dag’s debut film and that Farhadi drama share themes of domestic turmoil, cultural reckoning and social exploration of issues faced by people smothered in their own environs. But while Farhadi mines a compelling ground of purposeful cinema, finding collective catharsis in the nuances and foibles of his characters’ lives, Dag sets up a fascinating picture that slightly indicts the Muslim culture’s arranged marriages and then barely kept restraint halfway, blowing the lid wide open to a full-blown soap opera. Which is a shame since Kuma‘s first half is as engrossing as any terrific sociopolitical pictures of recent years, allowing us to understand the travails of the young, provincial and beautiful Ayse who marries into a family of Turkish migrants settling in Austria. Director Dag carefully paints in detail the domestic lives of these people with surgical precision, allowing the story to unfold with patience – from Ayse’s steady yet blind acceptance to her inevitable emotional regression and her tragic pursuit of the Western ideals of socially-accepted ‘normalcy’.
Ayse being a second wife is not a spoiler. The word ‘kuma’ literally means that – a woman who agrees to be in a bigamous arrangement with a man who has another wife. The idea that two women can share a husband is deemed acceptable in Turkish culture, and the Muslim world in general, but inconceivable and unlawful in most of the Western society, especially in Europe where the family settle. This provides an intriguing relevance and weight to the film, and it almost ruthlessly examines the consequences of such arrangement on all parties involved. But where it serves the film a powerful canvas, Dag tackles this issue with occasional heavy-handedness, what with his employment of far too many awkward fade-out transitions, weighed down with some writing that could barely handle the melodramatics, threatening to topple the film’s solid foundations – an overplayed family funeral, a predictable illicit affair, an overtly mawkish coming-out of a character and a finale worthy of an Eastenders episode – all destructive landmines of the soap opera territory. Thankfully, it’s all saved by an admirably stoic central performance by newcomer Begum Akkaya, providing enough nuance, realism and soulful humanity to Ayse, a woman trapped between the conflict of her surrounding cultural forces and her inner desire for personal liberation.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Umut Dag | CAST: Beggum Akkaya, Nihal Koldas, Vedat Erincin | SCREENPLAY: Petra Ladinigg, Umut Dagg| PRODUCER: Wega Film | RUNNING-TIME: 93 mins | GENRE: Drama/Foreign | COUNTRY: Austria