The New York Times
Aug 26 2014
Q&A: Fatih Akin Discusses His New Film 'The Cut'
By STEPHEN HEYMANAUG. 26, 2014
The director Fatih Akin, 41, born in Germany to Turkish parents, has
mined his mixed heritage to make two complex, critically acclaimed
films --"Head-On" (2004) and "The Edge of Heaven" (2007) -- which
comprise the first parts of what he calls his "Love, Death and the
Devil" trilogy. The final installment, "The Cut," which is set to open
at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday, goes back in time to 1915 to
replay scenes from one of the most painful and contentious chapters in
Turkish history: the Armenian genocide.
The film stars the French-Algerian actor Tahar Rahim ("A Prophet") as
an Armenian blacksmith who travels around the world -- from Aleppo to
Havana to North Dakota -- in search of his two daughters, with whom he
lost touch after the outbreak of systematic violence that would
eventually claim the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians.
"The Cut" -- shot on 35-millimeter film with Cinemascope lenses, with
locations in five countries and a budget of 15 million euros, or about
$20 million -- is by far the most ambitious film Mr. Akin has ever
attempted, and he admits to being a bit jittery about its reception.
The film was previously expected to debut at the Cannes Film Festival,
but Mr. Akin pulled it from consideration for "personal reasons." In
the following edited interview, he discusses why he brought "The Cut"
to Venice, how he thinks the film will be received in Turkey, and the
wide range of directors who influenced it, including Elia Kazan and
Q. You recently told a newspaper in Turkey that the country was ripe
for a major film that dealt with the Armenian genocide. The paper has
since received death threats. Have you changed your mind?
A. No, I still believe Turkey is ready. Two friends of mine, both
producers, read the script. One of them said they will throw stones,
the other said they will throw flowers. That's what it is -- guns and
roses. But I've shown the film to people who deny the fact that 1915
was a genocide and to people who accept it and both groups had the
same emotional impact. I hope the film could be seen as a bridge. For
sure there are radical groups, fascist groups, who fear any kind of
reconciliation. And the smaller they are, the louder they bark. The
newspaper that I gave the interview to, Agos, is actually an
Armenian-Turkish weekly newspaper where the journalist Hrant Dink
Q. He was Armenian and was murdered in 2007 by a teenage Turkish
nationalist. In 2010, you attempted to make a film about Dink's life,
but couldn't find an actor in Turkey to play the part.
A. I wrote down five names of Turkish actors I thought could play him.
And all of them were nervous about the script. I don't want to hurt
anybody, I don't live in Turkey, in a way I am safe, protected. But
these actors, maybe they'd have some problems. No film is worth that.
Q. The scenes from "The Cut" that are set in Turkey were actually
filmed in Jordan. Why?
A. Mostly because of logistical reasons. The film takes place in 1915,
in southeastern Turkey, very close to today's Syria, actually. And I
needed a lot of old trains, historical trains, like the ones from the
Baghdad Railway that Germans were building through the Turkish Empire
in those days. You find those trains and those landscapes in Jordan.
Q. But you also filmed parts of "The Cut" in Germany, Cuba, Canada, Malta.
A. It's a road movie. The plot is about a father looking for his lost
children. The Armenian genocide wasn't only about violence, it was
also about forced migration, the spreading around the world of these
people, from Anatolia to Port Said, Egypt; to Havana; to Canada; to
California; to Hong Kong.
Q. To what extent was this story based on the life of a real person?
A. I did a lot of research while I was writing this and I discovered
diaries of Armenians who went to Havana in their early 20s. Oral
histories and literature about the death camps and the death marches.
I collected a lot of very rich portraits of witnesses and tried to sew
Q. You've described the film as a kind of western.
A. Yes. "The Cut" is not just a film about the material, it's about my
personal journey through cinema, and the directors who I admire and
who influence my work. Elia Kazan's "America America" is a very
important influence. So is the work of Sergio Leone, how he used
framing. It's also an homage somehow to Scorsese. I wrote this film
with Mardik Martin, Martin Scorsese's very early scriptwriter who
wrote "Mean Streets" and the first draft of "Raging Bull." Because he
was Armenian, I discovered him on this project, and he helped me write
it. And we spoke a lot about obsessional characters in Scorsese films.
The film deals also a lot with my admiration for Bertolucci, and
Italian westerns and how Eastwood adapted Italian westerns. And the
way we try to catch the light, always having it behind us, is very
inspired by the work of Terrence Malick. So this film is very much in
the Atlantic ocean, somewhere near the Azores -- for a European film
it's too American, for an American film it's too European.
Q. Why do the Turkish characters in your film speak Turkish while the
Armenians speak English?
A. The main reason is that if I wanted to control the film, I had to
control the dialogue. And I don't speak Armenian at all. There are a
lot of examples in the history of cinema. Bertolucci shot "The Last
Emperor" with the Chinese speaking English. I used the concept that
Polanski used in "The Pianist," where he made all the Polish
characters speak English and the Germans speak German, making English
a language of identification. It's a clear concept, but it's
surprising for some people because they're used to my films in German
and Turkish. But this film is more about the whole world. It's not set
in a minimalistic frame.
Q. How was working with Tahar Rahim?
A. "A Prophet" made a huge impact on me, it was great film -- a
masterpiece. And 90 percent of the quality of the film came from Tahar
Rahim. When we met, there were a lot of things that we shared. We had
relevant backgrounds -- he had grown up in France with an Arab
background, and I had grown up in Germany with a Turkish background.
Q. Are you excited or nervous about the debut of your film at Venice?
A. I'm nervous and excited. I spent too much time on it -- usually you
spend two years with a film, but on this film I spent seven years, the
last four years I was working every day. Yes, I'm nervous.
Q. "The Cut" was initially headed to the Cannes Film Festival but you
pulled the movie at the last minute, citing "personal reasons." What
A. We showed the film to Cannes and Venice at the same time. The
reaction of Venice was very enthusiastic and Cannes was a bit much
more careful, like they always are. So I was nervous, and I followed
my instincts. But I couldn't talk about my decision in the press
because Venice asked me to wait until they made their own
announcement. The people in Cannes never rejected the film but I had
the feeling that it wasn't what they expected from me. Because it's
historical, because it's in English, it's not minimalistic, I'm not
sure. But I cannot fulfill other people's expectations. I have to
fulfill my own.