Feo Aladag’s “When We Leave”

Originally Die Fremde, Feo Aladag’s Turkish-German drama When We Leave won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The star of the film, Sibel Kekilli, who won an award for her role in Fatih Akin’s Head-On, also won a Founders Award for Best Actress in a Narrative Feature.

Joseph Smigelski’s review for the film is very positive, but I can’t help feeling uneasy that the portrayal of German Turks is going backwards since Fatih Akin’s Head-On. The film focuses on Kekilli’s character Umay, a woman who flees her abusive husband in Turkey and returns to Germany, her country of citizenship. There, she finds her family only to find out that they side with her husband. It appears that Turkish men (whether German or not) are patriarchal and adhere strongly to a traditional sense of honor. This stereotype is contrasted to the German boyfriend Umay later dates, where the two lovers share a “truly natural and loving, one [relationship] based on mutual respect.” While this film raises the problem of the misogynistic and problematic honor killings, it ignores the fact that domestic abuse happens not only in Turkish households but in German ones as well (where such abuse will not have such a strong label). This film falls back onto the notion that Turkish women can only be liberated by German men, an old theme dating back to Hark Bohm’s Yasemin (1988).

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