The word sumptuous must have been printed across German-Turkish director Fatih Akin’s camera during the making of The Cut. It’s a description he does all he can to own in a film that crosses countries, continents, deserts, mountains and oceans. The Armenian genocide provides the central, although by no means only tragedy that sends Tahar Rahim off to hunt down his missing daughters. Akin sails far too close to the wind on more than one occasion in his English language debut but his draining melodrama reaches suitably epic proportions when required.
Rahim is Nazaret, a blacksmith in Mardin, part of the Ottoman Empire when World War One breaks out. The local Armenian community including his wife and two young daughters gather around to discuss their fate and soon the Sultan’s forces have arrived to conscript all fighting men. Separated from his family and given back-breaking labour, Nazaret narrowly avoids the massacre of his people, an event that remains highly controversial even today, escaping with the loss of his voice. From here he comes across atrocity after atrocity until he’s given renewed hope that his daughters survived, sending him on a quest around the world to track them down.
Akin makes his intentions clear from the start. Music booming over a map of the empire, titles spell out the historical setting before Akin steps in to bring it to life. He’s not interested in nuance. The Cut is a film of scale and distance. The camera takes in vast landscapes and fields of the dead. Overseers beat down tiring workers while woman are prey for unscrupulous men. The barbarity that’s gripped the world is never in doubt. People die with screams and pleas for mercy, not silent acceptance. Alexander Hacke’s score is employed to amplify, not complement the action.
Each scene unfolds with a gloss reminiscent of the epics of old. Handsome photography, great production design and convincing costumes hark back to the days when Hollywood used to roam across history with abandon. The same flaws that afflicted many of those works are present here. Dialogue is at best perfunctory and at worst risible. The repeated use of visions of Nazaret’s family, and a song his wife used to sing tug the heartstrings with a hamfist. Rahim, mute for the majority of his role, also struggles with the weight on his shoulders. He looks lost at times although as an actor who works well with silence, he confidently carries the dramatic highpoints.
In the latter half, he’s left fighting an increasingly hard battle. When the plot exits World War One, the sheer number of destinations Nazaret is forced to visit give the feel of a giant scavenger hunt. All he ever finds is the next clue sending him off to repeat the same process. Akin is aiming for epic though and that’s the price he seems willing to pay. Overwrought and overly blunt, The Cut still succeeds in ambitiously placing the Armenian genocide on the world stage for all to see.
Director: Fatih Akin
Writers: Fatih Akin (screenplay), Mardik Martin
Stars: Tahar Rahim, Simon Abkarian, Makram Khoury
Runtime: 138 min
Country: Germany, France, Poland, Turkey, Canada, Russia, Italy