"Turkish-German" Films: A Broad Spectrum


"Turkish-German" Films: A Broad Spectrum

The new "Turkish-German" films are regularly praised for providing, from an insider perspective as it were, a complex picture of the everyday reality of young Turks in Germany. This may be the case for some films, but it ignores the considerable differences between these productions. While a film like "Winterblume" (1997) tells of an immigrant in a politically confrontational manner, "Kurz und schmerzlos" ("Short Sharp Shock", 1998) celebrates multicultural solidarity; and in "Der schöne Tag" ("A Fine Day", 2001) the main character's ethnic background plays no role whatsoever - significantly, this film is the third in a trilogy about Turkish-German youth in Berlin.

Source: Ottfilm, Dif
Manfred Zapatka, Daniel Brühl in "Elefantenherz" (Elephant Heart, 2002)

Some of these films are only marginally concerned with immigration ("Elefantenherz" [2002], "En Garde" [2004]), while others pay it no heed at all ("Mach die Musik leiser" [1994], "Gott ist tot" [2003], or "Lautlos" [2004]). Some of them have nothing to do with Turkish immigrants ("Schwarze Polizisten" [1991] or "Solino" [2002]), or only partly ("Wie Zucker im Tee" ["Like Sugar for Tea", 2001]). Decidedly different documentary productions like "Deutsche Polizisten" (1999) "Mein Vater, der Gastarbeiter" (1994), or "Wir haben vergessen zurückzukehren" (2001) stand back to back with light, poetic feature films like "Sommer in Mezra" (1991) or social-critical dramas dealing with psychic pressures and social violence ("Aprilkinder" ["April Children", 1998], "Kleine Freiheit" ["A Little Bit of Freedom", 2003]). In some films ("Töchter zweier Welten" [1990], "Geschwister - Kardeşler" [1997], "Gegen die Wand" [2004]), images of self and other are treated with considerable complexity, and protagonists are much more than just members of an ethnic group. Still other films remain fraught with stereotypes even today, with ethnic clichés, e.g. in "Anam" (2001) or "Solino," and with questionable attempts to stage a kind of "ghetto pride" as in "Kanak Attack" (2000) or "Alltag" (2002). The comedic deconstruction of stereotypes has functioned so far only rarely, examples being "Ich Chef, Du Turnschuh" ("Me Boss, You Sneakers", 1998) and "Getürkt" (1996).

Source: zero film, DIF
Poster from "Der schöne Tag" (A Fine Day, 2001)

These differences are by no means limited to subject matter and themes, but can be found in directing styles as well. In Fatih Akin's films, Hamburg-Altona is shown with a lot of local pride as a sort of "cool hood", while Berlin's streets have never looked so cosmopolitan as in Thomas Arslan's work. The two directors (to stay with these particular examples) also differ considerably in their distinctive positionings. In the one corner, there's Fatih Akin, who stated in the Süddeutsche Zeitung in February 2004: "I want to be a commercial film maker," and who makes movies that are modelled on American genre films and are capable of moving viewers with considerable emotional force. In the opposite corner, there's Thomas Arslan, a member of the so-called "Berlin school" who produces complex and formally rigorous films whose forerunners can be found in European auteur cinema; he is clearly in opposition to the mainstream. These "Turkish-German" film makers have abundant opportunities before them: Akin and Arslan are (cinematic) worlds apart, and those worlds have nothing to do with the adjectives "Turkish" or "German."