A tragic tale that touches on both the conflicted immigrant experience and female oppression in traditional cultures, Feo Aladag’s When We Leave (Die Fremde) is a heartbreaking odyssey through the alienation and terror of single motherhood. And compounded by an insular Turkish community in Germany that shuns anything beyond the narrow limits of permissible roles for women.
And though the story seems to implicitly target Muslim cultures, they by no means have cornered a monopoly on repression and violence against women. In fact, opening in theaters this month as well is Season Of The Witch, an occult thriller that, however fantastical, in part makes chilling reference to a real history of at least nine million mostly Western females being slaughtered from the Middle Ages on, for crimes like witchcraft and pestilence. And even today a woman is murdered here by a man every twenty minutes, while it was just this past year that a wife was summarily shot to death for failing to cook her displeased husband’s breakfast eggs to his satisfaction.
But When We Leave concerns a different sort of misogyny, one culturally based less on contempt and rage than the impact of community censure on male dignity and even his shaky sense of masculinity. Sibel Kekilli is Umay in the film, a young wife and mother who has left her immigrant family in Berlin to marry and live in Istanbul. Unable to further bear the brutality of her husband against both herself and her son Cem, Umay flees after reluctantly opting for an abortion, and returns to her family home.
But her parents and a bullying adult brother reject her presence, fearing the shame and that will be their lot from the Turkish immigrant community, even though Umay has clearly been a brutalized victim of domestic violence. When she refuses to return to her abusive husband, the men in the family conspire repeatedly to kidnap the child and bring him back to his father. Throughout this ordeal, Umay alternates between hiding out with Cem in a battered women’s shelter or with friends, and returning for further parental scorn and ostracism, out of a irrepressible longing for family acceptance.
When We Leave more than makes its point with a stinging eloquence and vividly realized dramatic turn by Kekilli. But young actress turned first time director Aladag, as if hesitant about her promising talent as an emerging filmmaker, tends to emotionally overload her narrative so as to needlessly further persuade the audience of the horrific plight of her besieged protagonist. When less would have indeed, sufficiently been more.
3 [out of 4] stars