Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Cut: Surviving the Armenian Genocide
you want to generate an avalanche of email, some of which speculating on the
nature of your parentage, than merely point out somewhere online that the
Muslim Ottoman Empire essentially invented genocide in 1915. No serious
historian disputes the Armenian Genocide, but the denial reaches levels well
past the absurd, approaching outright lunacy. Therefore it is somewhat
encouraging to see hardcore leftist Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin
seriously address the subject. His reference point is more The Searchers than Schindler’s
List, but there is no denying the enormity of the events of 1915 in Akin’s The Cut (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
his Armenian enclave bordering Syria, Nazaret Manoogian can tell an ill wind is
blowing from Constantinople, but he hopes the worst of it will be the
impressment and slave labor endured by the village’s able-bodied men. Alas,
true horrors await when they finally finish the highway for the military. The
entire work party is then massacred by a group of convicts specifically
liberated for such duties. However, Mehmet the thief has no stomach for mass
murder. At risk of death he slices Manoogian’s throat, but only cuts deep
enough to sever his vocal chords, rather than a major artery.
resuscitated Armenian and Mehmet soon fall in with an apolitical group of
Turkish deserters, but Manoogian subsequently lights out on his own after
hearing survivors have congregated in Ras-al-Ayn, essentially to wait for
death. From there, Manoogian will follow an epic trail that leads through
Syria, Lebanon, Cuba, Florida, Minnesota, and North Dakota, in search of his
surviving twin daughters, Lucinee and Arsinee.
deserves credit for fully facing up to the Armenian Genocide in the Ras-al-Ayn
sequences, as well as the brutal mass murder of his fellow villagers, but it clearly
makes him uncomfortable. Arguably, the film’s emotional power peaks in the
Ras-al-Ayn dying fields. For the next two acts, Akins seems to be desperately
searching for “righteous” Muslims to protect Manoogian and thuggish Americans
to torment him as he pursues his quest.
Akin absorbed plenty of the right lessons from John Ford. The vistas do indeed
sweep. Alexander Hacke’s muted electronic soundtrack is also quite effective,
creating an appropriately otherworldly vibe. Truly, there are times when
Manoogian might as well be on Mars. However, the narrative’s Homeric episodic
nature is inevitably uneven. Some scenes just work better than others.
Tahar Rahim nicely anchors the film with necessarily quiet power. He is acutely
expressive without ever indulging in exaggeration or Streep-like excess. Once
again, the Cecil B. DeMille-worthy supporting cast is a decided mixed bag, with
Bartu Kucukcaglayan and Kevork Malikyan earning notice as Mehmet and the Cuban
barber who befriends Manoogian, respectively.
When Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide,”
he did so specifically in response to the systematic Ottoman massacre of Armenians.
Frankly, the denial is becoming toxic for the deniers, so if someone with Akin’s
ideological standing acknowledges the historical record, it might just help
dilute some of the vitriol. The Cut is
not perfect but it towers above his unsoulful Soul Kitchen. Recommended on balance for those interested in the
Armenian Genocide (a tragedy scarcer than albino elephants in cinema), The Cut opens this Friday (9/18) in New
York, at the Landmark Sunshine and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Labels: Armenian Genocide