Berlinale: Captivating crime drama in Cracks in Concrete
by Joseph Proimakis
- Umut Dag returns to the section that premiered his feature debut, with a sophomore project that establishes him as an evolving talent
Four years after debuting in the Panorama with the socially charged Kuma [+see also:
film profile], Kurdish-Austrian director Umut Dag returns to Berlinale with Cracks in Concrete [+see also:
film profile], a gritty crime drama whose tight, damp frames of Vienna are bustling with dark humour stemming from its adolescent criminals’ naïve life goals. But make no mistake: the hood is not a place for laughing and joking, but rather one of life and death.
Having served ten years of his involuntary manslaughter and possession charges, an ex-con returns to his hometown, trying to find his way back into the lives of his loved ones, create a semblance of a normal life and keep an eye on his 15-year-old son, who never knew him as a father.
The vicious circle of life in the hood is what is at the heart of Umut Dag’s screenplay (co-written by Kuma collaborator Petra Ladinigg), with 15-year-old Mikail (convincingly portrayed by Alechan Tagaev) seeming to follow in his estranged father’s footsteps on a step-by-step basis. Trying to fund the recording of his rap mixtape, potentially his ticket out of his dead-end life, he is dealing drugs on the streets and in local bars. However, business isn’t booming enough to keep him out of the local crime lord’s debt books, and his bad investment choices don’t help much either.
Recognising the pattern, Ertan (Murathan Muslu) discreetly infiltrates his son’s life, planning not to reveal his true identity to Mikail. But as the boy gets increasingly tangled up in the unrelenting tentacles of the underworld, Ertan will have to decisively come into the foreground, thus setting in motion the film’s powerhouse of a drama.
Thanks mainly to Muslu’s brooding eyes and expressive face – a welcome antithesis to his massive, muscular frame – the lead actor’s esoteric and deeply moving performance gently lifts Dag’s film to Greek-tragedy territory, upgrading the script’s formalistic plot points to those of a memorable tale of forgiveness and acceptance in a fearful and lonely world.