The Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, in its mission to bring us thought-provoking works of moviemaking from around the world, delivers once again with Fatih Akin’s THE CUT. A polarizing film, it haunts us with images of violence and atrocity, while exploring a single person’s globe-spanning journey to find some sort of redemption and reconciliation.
Set largely in the aftermath of the Armenian genocide in Turkey, THE CUT follows Nazaret Manoogian (Tahir Rahim)—a lone mute blacksmith—as he returns from torture and imprisonment to search for his two long-lost daughters. This is a journey that not only takes him through the various tragedies associated with the genocide’s implications, but also from Turkey to Lebanon, from Cuba to Florida, and eventually to the barren plains of North Dakota.
Akin’s film is a breathtaking visual achievement. He captures each territory with its own personality, delivering masterful compositions accentuated with expert cinematography and production design (in the latter case, from veteran designer Allan Starski). It’s one of the best-photographed films you’ll see all year. Shot entirely on 35mm film stock in CinemaScope, the visuals are both striking and lush without being overly stylized. And to echo the narrative’s echoes of Hollywood epics and westerns, whenever possible Akin relies purely on “old school” filming techniques. The result is a film that is stylistically aware of its forebears without being derivative of them; working within the same framework of the classics while being wholly contemporary.
Narratively and directorially, however, the film has proven to be divisive, as the mixed reviews from professional critics attest. It’s not just due to the controversial nature of the Armenian genocide—a topic that continues to spark intense debate some 100 years after the fact. It’s also Fatih Akin’s presentation of the material. Akin, with co-screenwriter Mardik Martin (RAGING BULL, NEW YORK, NEW YORK), intentionally holds you at arm’s length from the action, making the viewer an objective witness to the events that unfold, rather than pulling the audience into the story emotionally. He takes a Terrence Malick or Stanley Kubrick approach to the material, which initially seems at odds with the intensely emotional aspects of the film’s narrative. His stated intention is—especially in scenes of violence—to allow the characters to maintain their own dignity and not rely on emotional exploitation to present them. But some viewers may find it overly cold and clinical when a more immersive experience might be preferable.
What cannot be denied, however is the excellence of the performances, in particular that of Tahir Rahim as the largely silent Nazaret Manoogian. His performance is overlaid with intelligence and richness of feeling that in lesser hands might come across as mere physical gesturing. As he appears in nearly every frame of the movie, the burden of carrying the film is on his shoulders and he manages to do so with grace and aplomb. It’s impossible to imagine THE CUT working as well as it does with anyone else in the lead.
Despite the polarizing storytelling stance that Akin takes, THE CUT is a film well worth checking out, particularly for those who appreciate a more cerebral approach to their movie going experiences. It’s a rare exploration of a controversial subject, it’s a beautifully crafted piece of cinema, and it features a standout performance as its central pillar. And even if it holds you at a distance, that distance gives you a unique perspective on images that will linger with you long after the film has unspooled from its reels.
Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.