The Cut

Germany (2014) Dir. Faith Akin

I apologise in advance for the lack of objectivity and detail in this review but as regular readers will know, I am hard of hearing thus rely on subtitles. This film is a European production with a global cast but most of the dialogue is in English and distributor Soda Pictures didn’t bother with HOH subtitles so I was unable to follow most of what went on.

The Cut begins in 1915 during the last few years of the Ottoman Empire reign covering the Armenian Genocide. In the Turkish capital of Mardin, blacksmith Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim) is one of the male Armenians rounded up by Turkish police demanding they join the Turkish army, forcing them into hard labour building a new road under harsh and oppressive conditions.

The Armenians are then told either convert to Islam and join the Turkish army or be killed. Only a few accept, returning a few days later to kill the others, but while Nazaret’s executioner can’t go through with slitting his throat, the cut he makes is enough to make Nazaret pass out and render him mute. Nazaret returns home to discover his daughters are still alive, leading him on globetrotting another journey to find them.  

Faith Akin gave us the extraordinary Edge Of Heaven so I was hoping this film would be another winner, but the above-mentioned subtitling issue was just one issue with it coming up short. Running for 134 minutes, this is surprisingly quite a slog for a story that  takes in multiple locations, making it every bit as dry an experience watching it as the frequent sandy landscapes Nazaret traverses.

Because Nazaret’s home life is only briefly established in the opening minutes before he is whisked away, our investment in this bond is minimal at best, not helped by the fact his wife Rakel (Hindi Zahra) and twin daughters remain off screen and all forms of communication or news don’t exist. The reason for this becomes apparent later on – that the Armenian Genocide is not the focus of the story at all.

One would think that a filmmaker of Akin’s proven bravado would be keen to make a powerful cinematic statement on this horrific event, but being half-Turkish would seem sufficient reason for Akin to tread carefully instead. This is detrimental to enjoying this film given the depth of material that could have been covered whereas it only makes up most of the first 45 minutes of so, and is debatably the strongest part of the whole film.

Having recently watched a film about the Holocaust (Fateless), it is fascinating to note the similarities between the brutish Ottoman soldiers and the Nazis in both attitude and actions. The Armenians are worthless foreigners to the Turks and Christianity is reviled, yet this persecution is subtle compared to the constant and open victimisation of the Jews by the Nazis.

Three years pass before the offer to join the Turkish army is made to the Armenians and the subsequent execution of the dissenters. Mehmet (Bartu Kucukcaglayan), the man who failed to kill Nazaret, returns to help him escape since he was believed dead and the pair chance upon a group of Turkish deserters who escort them to safety until Nazaret learns of the fate of his family.

From hereon in, it’s about Nazaret’s journey across Turkey, to Aleppo where he is helped out by soap seller Omar Nasreddin (Makram J. Khoury), to orphanages in Lebanon and Cuba and finally to America, where he is attacked by rednecks for preventing a rape, a call-back to earlier when a Turkish soldier raped an Armenian woman unchallenged by Nazaret and his fellow captives.    

Whilst I got the gist of the story the devil as they say is in the detail, and thanks to not being able to discern the dialogue, most of the vital information Nazaret received was lost to me which I had to crib from online reviews and recaps. It makes all the difference to be able to follow the conversations that flesh out what we can see and set Nazaret up for this next destination – try watching it with the sound off and see what I mean.

As a European co-production it was presumably decided that English was a safe middle ground (Turkish and Arabic dialogue was subtitled). To elaborate on my issue, it is not just about volume, clarity is a huge obstacle too. Thick accents coupled with intrusions from background and ambient sounds, the dreading whispered approach and frankly poor sound mix obscures roughly 85% of the dialogue.

However, I was able to tell that Tahar Rahim did a good job in carrying the film despite being silent for most of it, but Nazaret was hardly the most dynamic character to begin with. Raham exudes enough humanity to feel sympathy for him in his suffering and will him on in his journey and find some happiness but not enough to stay fully invested in it.

This unfortunately is true of the film as a whole although I can’t really call it bad, just lacklustre. Had it focused on the Armenian Holocaust the prestige Akin was aiming for would have surfaced. His chosen story instead brings in too many supporting characters popping in and out with little substance and the constant threads of hope stretching the continents begins to feel like a contrivance.

If the intention was make this feel like an epic Akin doesn’t pull it off, maybe for budget reasons but the camerawork isn’t very adventurous in bringing out the best of the varied locations. The lack of urgency and atmosphere is complicit in the run time feeling much longer than it is.

Not being able to follow the dialogue spoiled my enjoyment of The Cut thus my feelings on it are somewhat tainted. Not to sound overdramatic, but there should be a special place in hell for distributors who don’t have HOH subtitles on their releases.