At Home in the New Germany? Local Stories and Global Concerns in Yüksel Yavuz’s Aprilkinder and Kleine Freiheit

Kraenzle’s article begins with a discussion about the rise of Turkish-German cinema within the past decade and the common sentiment during the 1990s that it was the successor to the New German Cinema of the 1970s, due to the common social themes they address about marginalized individuals. Kraenzle, however, warns against drawing this direct link. She states, “Subsuming transnational cultural production within national rubrics can…be a way of avoiding larger political questions regarding civil inequalities, migration politics and minority rights” (91). Placing Turkish-German cinema as a developing movement under the umbrella of New German Cinema denies it of its own identity and also neuters the message behind these films, which focus on the difficult subjects of poverty, migration, and cultural difference. It echoes the inclusory trend of trying to “integrate” somewhat foreign and distant facets of culture into the larger German national tradition and becomes simply an issue of political correctness while failing to discuss the serious socio-political issues the films bring up.

Kraenzle focuses on the filmography of the Kurdish-German director, Yüksel Yavuz, as an example of how the issues of migration and cultural displacement are far from simple as they explore “models of identity in forms that do not lose sight of the fundamental displeasures of ongoing political or economic inequalities” (93). Kraenzle argues how Yavuz’s films differ from the “cinema of duty” of New German Cinema as well as the “pleasures of hybridity” of other recent films about minorities. Rather, Yavuz’s films offer an alternative to these – though it does still seem that they are somewhat in line with the “cinema of duty” in the way they address heavy social issues. However, these films are presented in less black and white terms in which differences between communities are not starkly delineated on ethnic terms. The key element that Kraenzle emphasizes in Yavuz’s films is their inclusion of downtrodden German characters alongside downtrodden foreigners. What separates these people from the rest of society is no longer simply an issue of race, but also class – the construct of identity works on multiple levels. German characters from Yavuz’s films, such as Kim, a prostitute in Aprilkinder, and Käptn, a homeless man in Kleine Freiheit, are shown interacting with immigrants on the fringes of society. Together, they stand as examples of how “Yavuz is careful not to resort to notions of binary oppositions between cultures” (104).

I would, however, argue somewhat with this statement of Kraenzle’s: “By extending the field of representation to include various marginalized groups, including German nationals, Yavuz infuses scenarios familiar from films of the 1970s and 1980s – confinement, claustrophobic spaces, longing for home – with a new complexity” (104). This statement seems to detract from the films of the New German Cinema, which according to Kraenzle are less complex than Yavuz’s films on the basis that they lack certain character types. Though Yavuz may flesh out the social worlds of his films, I wouldn’t say New German Cinema completely lacks in marginalized German figures, either. One example is Emmi in Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. She is a widowed cleaning lady who is somewhat differentiated from others in terms of class, but also because she married a Polish man. She becomes further excluded after meeting and marrying Ali, a Moroccan worker. Emmi’s own identity shifts around throughout the film, in terms of how she sometimes defines herself in opposition to Ali, while sometimes wholeheartedly disregarding his race as she sees him as a fellow lonely human being. Fassbinder’s film therefore also blurs the boundaries of “binary oppositions” and addresses the issue of identity as a construct of society.

by Christine Chou

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