"A disappointing and frustrating epic about the Armenian Holocaust.”
A mute father is in search for his twin daughters in The Cut, a multilingual feature from Turkish-German director Fatih Akin. Through its protag’s epic search-and-survival adventure across continents and over years, the film explores the aftermaths of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire.
The movie begins in 1915 in Mardin, a town near the Syrian border of present-day Turkey. Christian blacksmith Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim) is forcefully separated from his wife (Hindi Zahra) and their twin daughters Lucinee and Arsinee (Dina and Zein Fakhoury) when the Turks participate in the First World War. However, instead of engaging in warfare, Naza ends up working in the desert building roads like the rest of his fellow Armenian men.
When the Ottomans are losing the fight against the British forces, they eventually abandon their Armenian workers. Just when they think they gain freedom, a mob of bandits found Nazar’s group and execute them. Fortunately for him, Mehmet (Bartu Kucukcaglayan) who is too petrified to slit his throat punctures his neck instead, thereby damaging his vocal chords and rendering him speechless.
After a band of army deserters fed him, Nazar finds himself working for soap manufacturer Omar Nasreddin (Makram J. Khoury) in Aleppo (now in Syria). The war ends in 1918 and during an open-air screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, he learns that his twins are still alive. In the years that follow, Nazar embarks on an odyssey that will take him from Syria and Lebanon to the shores of Cuba and to the rural plains of Minneapolis in search for his daughters.
The Cut is ambitious and demanding on a grand-scale but only sporadically emotional and motivating. The first act picks interest as it depicts the controversial but less known Armenian holocaust. History is handled emphatically at this point, as well as Nazar’s personal story. Some of the film’s strongest and most touching moments are here, particularly after Nazar’s team is executed and our hero wakes up to see the lifeless body of his brothers lying bloodied and lifeless around him. The moment Nazar’s voice is taken away, the film also becomes an inaudible cacophony of half-hearted search efforts and ebb of characters.
At this point, the movie becomes episodic and soap operatic as Nazar goes through his checklist of places-to-go-to. It also verges on being comical and farcical as he comes a little too late at each location. Places and faces come and go and his daughters are yet nowhere in sight. It becomes exhausting as everything registers with no to little emotional investment. Rahim is initially remarkable as Nazar but the film’s second half leaves him nothing much to “say” and work with. Despite some gray hairs, he remains boyish and does not look like a father of 18-year old twins. So when they meet, there is no emotional spark and the film ends on a frustrating note.
Other than its patchy narrative, there are also issues on the dialogues and languages. While the Turks, Arabs and Cubans all speak their own native languages, all the Armenian characters use heavily-accented English. This feels very uncomfortable and such disconnect degrades the film’s credibility. Lines are also too bland and generic. And when Nazar becomes mute, it is a big wonder how he manages to go through his adventures without obvious language barrier.
The Cut is beautifully designed and shot, whether it is in the desert, on the Atlantic Ocean or in the American plains. Its title may be a metaphorical representation of the hero’s separation from his family, his journey to a foreign land, or his breaking away from the past, but its satiated narrative is only partially engrossing, heart-warming and satisfying. It may be well-meaning and genuine, a courageous and laudable gesture from Akin, but it fails to leave an impressive and evocative register.
Production Company: Pandora Film
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Simon Abkarian, Hindi Zahra, Makram J. Khoury, Kevork Malikyan, Trine Dyrholm, Moritz Bleibtreu, Lara Heller
Director: Fatih Akin
Screenplay: Fatih Akin, Mardik Martin
Producer: Fatik Akin, Karl Baumgartner, Reinhard Brundig, Nurhan Sekerci-Porst, Flaminio Zadra
Co-producers: Fabienne Vonier, Francis Boespflug, Alberto Fanni, Valerio De Paolis, Ruben Dishdishyan, Aram Movsesyan, Laurette Bourassa, Doug Steeden, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczynska
Director of photography: Rainer Klausmann
Production designer: Allan Starski
Costume designer: Katrin Aschendorf
Editor: Andrew Bird
Music: Alexander Hacke