Old and new Kuma
by Vladan Petkovic
11/02/2012 - The selection of Kuma [trailer, film focus] as the Panorama opening film at this year’s Berlinale may seem a strange choice. Umut Dag’s feature film debut is a story about a Turkish family in Vienna, so it is fairly local. However, wider implications can easily be read into it and, of course, Berlin is full of Turkish families.
At the beginning of a film, in a village in Turkish mountains, young Ayse (Begum Akkaya) marries Hasan (Murathan Muslu) and goes on to live with his family in Vienna. Soon it is revealed that the marriage is fake, and that she is actually there to be the kuma – second wife – for Hasan’s father Mustafa (Vedat Erincin), as the wife Fatma (Nihal Koldas) is ill with cancer. Mustafa and Fatma also have a married daughter, two younger children and another ten-year-old son, and around a million relatives who come to congratulate the family for finding “such a beautiful bride for the handsome Hasan”.
Like any proper Turkish family patriarch, Mustafa is cold towards the kuma, and none of the children seem to like her - particularly the spiteful teenage daughter, who never stops trying to humiliate her. But Fatma takes her under her wing - she sees that Ayse is smart, hard-working and strong under her village-girl appearance and she’s sure she has found the right successor. This relationship is central to the story, which features many complicated undercurrents and shifts in family relations.
Kuma is almost a chamber piece - once they’re back from Turkey, most of the scenes happen in the family apartment, and those in which there is a supermarket in which Ayse starts working, or streets or a park, do not show enough for us to be able to recognize Vienna. In this closed space, we get a glimpse of many separate Turkish worlds in Western European cities.
What initially feels almost like a Turkish soap opera, transforms into an intricate study of the old and new ways, and the ever-present subject matter of the position of women in muslim society. There are some excellent performances, especially by Koldas and Akkaya, smart camera solutions (by Carsten Thiele), as well as tight scriptwriting (by Dag and Petra Ladinigg), and an ending that hits like a hammer.
Kuma was produced by Wega Film and Films Boutique handles the international rights.