Kuma DVD Review

Kuma is a delicately considered study of outdated religious and familial traditions and the struggle they face as they compete with a changing, modern world. The focus is on one Turkish family living in their own community in Vienna, Austria, and the clashing, alien practices that must lurk behind the surface and kept quiet.

Our protagonist is Ayse (Begum Akkaya), an obedient, innocent and wide eyed nineteen year old. The opening of the film documents her wedding in a small Turkish village to handsome Hasan, or so we are led to believe. Soon afterwards, after her journey to Austria and introduction to his family she is left in a bedroom with his middle aged father, Mustafa (Vedat Erincin), and expected to procreate. We discover through our confusion that the ceremony was a sham and she is in fact betrothed to the father figure instead, as his second wife. What is even more surprising is that the plan was derived from his wife Fatma (Nihal G. Koldas) a woman suffering from cancer who wishes to ensure her family will be cared for should anything happen to her.

What prevents this bizarre domestic situation from coming across as sordid or icky – for want of a better word – is how Umut Dag presents it all in a matter of fact manner. There are no villains here – and even more interestingly – clear victims. It isn’t all plain sailing of course, the family argue and bicker in a plausible way, but they also share moments of real connection and find a way to make their new family function. Each character has redeeming qualities, even the father, who comes across as genuine and kind. Ayse, although meek at first, isn’t a pushover and can stand her own ground. She’s bright, and incorporates herself easily into the domestic sphere to make the best of her situation. After taking constant insults from her intimidated step-sisters/children she proves herself by patiently teaching her prickly sister German, and catching a smile from her.

Dag clearly doesn’t want to judge – which is crucial for the sort of film that this is – and equally there isn’t some sort of grand objectionable statement or warning message to take away from it. There are no bold right or wrong answers here. Dag certainly presents the perils of becoming obsessed with outdated traditional practices, but rather than suggest what shouldn’t be done he clearly just wants to understand the motives and consequences of them. In fact, he was raised in a Turkish community in Vienna himself, and was inspired by the mothers he knew there. He is obviously drawn to the idea of sacrificing ones own identity for the sake of established domestic roles.

Kuma is a kitchen sink, social-realist drama, and takes place mostly in one house. The second half takes a dramatic turn, and certain parts feel slightly misjudged, letting the film down. There is an unnecessary revelation from Hasan which gives the scene a bit of a soap opera vibe, as does a violent scene involving lots of yelling later on, and it is familiar terrain when Ayse starts a sexual relationship with a colleague from the supermarket she works in; the sexual awakening aspect is familiar terrain. Still, much credit is to be awarded to this first time director for choosing an interesting topic with much thematic weight, and for casting unknowns that deliver impassioned performances. With more development, Dag might be up to scratch with his similar predecessor and king of the domestic drama, Asghar Farhadi.

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