Written by Reem Saleh, New Media, DFI
Film: Almanya – Wilkommen in Deutschland (Almanya – Welcome to Germany)
Director: Yasemin Samdereli
Stars: Vedat Erincin, Fahri Ögün Yardim and Lilay Huser
Genre: Comedy, Drama
What happens when a Turkish family who moved to Germany in the sixties returns to their homeland three generations later?
In a tribute to their ancestors, director Yasemin Samdereli and her younger sister and co-writer Nesrin have told the story of Turkish immigration to Germany opting for humour over the traditional melancholy associated with tales of economic migration. This colorful comedy, inspired by their grandparent’s journey to Germany questions integration, explores the feeling of belonging and highlights cultural challenges. The use of pretentious-free humour in the narrative makes serious issues, such as living in a more secular environment more accessible for the audience.
In this intimate picture, the prologue shows the third generation of the Yilmazes family at risk of losing their Turkish roots. When six year-old grandson Cenk doesn’t find Anatolia, the land of his forefathers, on the class map, he becomes frustrated and asks his parents: “What am I? Turkish or German?” This identity crisis is reason enough for Huseyin (Vedat Erincin), his patriotic grandfather, to convince his wife Fatma (Lilay Huser) to take the family on a holiday to Turkey. This will be their grandchildren’s first trip to their homeland and an opportunity to reconnect as a family.
Past and present interweave on screen, as the Samdereli sisters, who have admitted the film is semi autobiographical, use the family’s adventure as a way of telling a tale faced by millions in the 1960s.
The past is told by Canan, Cenk’s 22-year-old cousin and illustrated by his vivid imagination and perspective. We follow the story of the young Huseyin (Fahri Yardim) in Anatolia, his marriage and his journey to Germany where he is the 1,000,001st worker. His family join him later in this new land which is when we witness the way children are amazed at the habits of German people. The stereotypes about Germans come thick and fast, from the Turkish family’s amazement at how tall people are to their surprise at the rubbish collectors’ punctuality. Christmas gifts, they learn, should be wrapped up and opened only on December 25, much to their mother’s bemusement. The children are the first to learn not only the German language, but also teach their parents ways to integrate into this new culture.
The present depicts the Yilmazes’ life in Germany and the cultural dilemmas they face. Canan is now pregnant outside the traditional bonds of marriage, an example of a very modern dilemma of migration, where young women are torn between what’s acceptable in Germany and traditional Turkish norms. Once in Turkey, present and past blend once again through Cenk’s eyes.
‘Almanya’ is more than a film about a fun-family trip, it’s an exploration of complex characters who share simple roots. Unique in many ways, the closeness between the Yilmazes is familiar and almost magical considering each characters’ individual battle with their identity
The Samdereli sisters, guests at the 3rd Doha Tribeca Film Festival, spent years making this honest, genuine film, which clearly contains many of their personal memories.
They have succeeded in using humour to narrate the history and plight of Turkish workers in Germany. Miscommunication, language nuances and cultural barriers are the raw material for this fascinating comedy, a window into a story rarely given such an entertaining treatment. The result is a sentimental, lively and charmingly memorable film.