It’s 1915 and WWI has cast its long shadow on Turkey. Nazaret Manoogian is an Armenian blacksmith, played here by the French-Algerian actor Tahar Rahim, who was so wonderful in “The Prophet.” We have barely met Nazaret and his family when Turkish soldiers haul all the men off to be a soldier, which means that they are used as slave labor until they either die or are killed, their women and children meanwhile sent to a remote camp where most of them starve to death. As their great fortune would have it, Nazaret and his daughters manage to survive, and once that is established the film follows his search for the girls – across the Middle East to Cuba to Minnesota. Honestly, there is not much more to it than that.
Venice Reviews: Fatih Akin’s ‘The Cut’ Stars Tahir Rahim, Saverio Costanza’s ‘Hungry Hearts’ Stars Adam Driver
Venice Reviews: Akin’s 'The Cut' Stars Rahim, Costanza’s 'Hungry Hearts' Stars Driver
“The Cut” is Fatih Akin’s reach for the big time, and sad to say he comes up short. The popular German-Turkish director has made a lot of different kinds of films, from inter-cultural dramas (“Head On”) and comedies (“Soul Kitchen”), to romantic comedy/road-trips (“In July”) and documentaries (“Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul”). “The Cut” is meant to be his big, beautiful epic tale, but it falls mysteriously flat straight out of the blocks.
Of course, the survival and search is moving, and sometimes harrowing (well, a bit) and you very much want Nazaret to succeed (more or less). But that is not to say that you feel greatly for this character, or any other in “The Cut.” Sadly, Rahim seems a bit out of it, not quite able to muster the necessary emotional connection to the audience or anyone else. It doesn’t help that when Nazaret was nearly killed, his vocal chords were damaged and he loses his ability to speak, so this is largely a silent performance.
In one sense, this is a blessing. After consulting Roman Polanski, who once used the same strategy, Akin chose to have all of the Armenians speak English, which gives the film a cheesy old-Hollywood feel. (In one early scene, Nazaret and his daughters painfully bid a woman to “have a nice day”!) But unfortunately Rahim’s mute serves as a moment-to-moment reminder of the distance between the character and his audience.
Ironically, the most life we see out of him is when he catches a Charlie Chaplin film, but beyond that there is a passivity the film is unable to overcome right up to the end. As Nazaret and his remaining family walked off into the Midwestern landscape, I felt no elation, just sadness – for the director. To say this is an anti-climax is to be understated. With its grand historical and geographical scale, nicely rendered by cinematographer Rainer Klausmann and the production team, “The Cut” will find an audience, just not the one Akin was hoping for. (NYT feature here.)
I had no expectations for Italian director Saverio Costanza’s “Hungry Hearts,” having not seen his earlier “The Solitude of Prime Numbers” (2010), so it was a pleasant surprise when it spooled out in such a charming manner – an Italian woman, Mina (Alba Rohrwacher), meets Jude (Adam Driver) in the restroom of a New York Chinese restaurant when the door gets stuck. It’s not exactly love at first sight – or smell – but soon there is sex and then a pregnancy and then a wedding, nicely mixed over “Oh, What a Feeling!” All is happiness: Mina is lovely and Jude is ecstatic. (Never mind the weird dream Mina has about a hunter shooting a deer outside of the restaurant where they had their wedding reception.) Finally, there’s a baby boy, and here’s where things start to get a little hinky.
It turns out that Mina has very strong feelings about giving birth and raising her child in a natural manner, even to the point of risking her and the boy’s life in the birth process, which begins at home and ends up in the hospital with a caesarean – something Jude promised her he would not allow. (Now consider his name…) Seven months later, Mina is feeding the baby rather strange natural foods and oils, no meat, and both mother and son are worryingly thin. She has not taken the baby outside in all of this time, for fear of contamination, and when Jude comes home he has to wash his hands before she allows him to hold his son. Is she depressed? Crazy? Jude rebels (betrays?) and on her first day back at work he takes the baby to the doctor, who recommends an immediate catch-up diet of meat and vitamins. At home again, he tells Mina what he’s done and what the doctor said, and insists that the new diet be followed. So begins an epic struggle.
It goes to extreme – some might say absurd — levels of insistence, distrust, hurt and anger, building to a climax that, like the one in Francesco Munzi’s “Black Souls,” feels a little too writerly, a little forced, and quite unnecessary. Rohrwacher and Driver are terrific, nevertheless, and Costanza certainly knows how to tell – and show – a story, particularly in the details. He should do more of it, but next time with a story that doesn’t force its audience to either buy in or buy out. No more dreams about dead deer, please.