KumaThursday 15 Aug 2013
Director: Umut Dag
Starring: Begüm Akkaya, Nihal G Koldas, Murathan Muslu, Vedat Erincin
Duration: 93 minutes
Director Umut Dag has hit the ground running with this impressive 2012 feature debut, and one certainly hopes that the Austrian director, with a Kurdish family background, can continue to make strong films of this calibre. The action begins in Turkey at a traditional village wedding, which, despite the apparent gaiety, is the cause of serious family tension.
The bride is 19-year-old village girl Ayse (brilliantly played by Begüm Akkaya). She has married the handsome Hasan (Murathan Muslu), son of Fatma (Nihal G Koldas), who is seriously ill with cancer. The wedding over, the newlyweds, along with Fatma and her husband Mustafa (Vedat Erincin), pile into a bus for departure back to Vienna where the family now lives.
The wedding is the reason for the visit home, but this has also been a family reunion in Turkey. In a couple of shots, Dag reveals the searing heartbreak of separation, bound up with the emigrant experience. This, you realise, is the case no matter how prosperous you are – and these emigrants are not by any means on the bread-line.
Back at the family apartment in Vienna, it is clear that this will not be a straightforward marriage for Ayse, who is clearly disorientated by the whole experience. Fatma's two daughters do not take kindly to the new bride either.
Ayse is married to Hasan, but it is in fact Mustafa whom Fatma intends her for, in what would be an illegal polygamous marriage in Austria. Fatma is undergoing chemotherapy and, fearing that she will die from cancer, has chosen Ayse as her surrogate.
Fatma believes that Ayse will dutifully and lovingly look after her husband and children, the youngest of whom is a 10-year old son. This is a deep-rooted, protective, yet curiously self-indulgent gesture.
Moreover, while such an arrangement might have functioned unquestioningly in Turkey 100 years ago, it only causes confusion in the lives of this immigrant family. The Turkish word 'kuma' means 'fellow wife' and the provision for such a polygamous arrangement was apparently dropped from Turkish civil law in 1920.
As a character, Fatma is reminiscent of the mother in Nadeem Aslam's 2004 novel, Maps for Lost Lovers, which vividly evoked the life of an immigrant Pakistani family living in a North of England town. The mother in that novel was also a devout Muslim - equally wilful - desperately trying to keep her family pure and chaste, against the odds.
But there is many a slip between cup and lip, as they say, and this matriarch's contingency plan does not work out as she wishes. Although undeniably charming and charismatic, Aysa is also wilful - and not as compliant as her village origins might have suggested.
Lyrical, tender, intelligently atmospheric and beautifully-paced, Kuma is a masterpiece. Moreover, Begüm Akkaya is one of the most outstanding young actresses you are likely to see in any film this year.