In the 1960s, West Germany prospered so much that people were referring to the period as Wirtschaftswunder, an ’economic miracle,’ so to speak. Although the country had full employment, there was still a need for even more workers. So the capitalist Germans recruited a myriad of laborers from abroad: Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, Portuguese, Yugoslavians, Moroccans, Tunisians, and, of course, Turks. Their arrival would change the nation forever.
Despite the fact that there is still an ongoing debate about integration, German popular culture has arguably benefited from the migrants in recent years. Not just cinema, but filmmaking in particular. In the last decade and a half, Turkish-German whizkid Fatih Akin has established the new genre of multicultural realistic arthouse movies with a message. Works of his, like Head-On and Soul Kitchen, have also been well-received in other countries.
Almanya by the Samdereli sisters, Germany’s Turkish-bred equivalent to America’s Coen or Wachowski brothers, takes the same line. A wonderfully charming comedy with a breeze of fresh air, it tells the story of a Turkish family among the Teutons. Performed by a charismatic and capable ensemble of actors, the film consists of two interwoven narrative strands set in different timeframes.
One shows how the paterfamilias Hüseyin (Fahri Ögün Yardim) courts his future spouse Fatma (Demet Gül) as a young man in his Anatolian village. Some time later, in 1964, he emigrates to Germany and settles there with his wife and kids. The other storyline sees the elderly Fatma (Lilay Huser) talk Hüseyin (Vedat Erincin) into accepting German citizenship, whereupon the patriarch convinces his kin to embark on a bus trip to their Oriental hometown.
Their voyage to Anatolia does not only tighten the family bond but also lays bare the individual problems of the clan members and leads to some soul-searching. In one way or other, all of them are faced with the question of who they actually are, whether it is Fatma’s and Hüseyin’s adult children Veli (Aykut Kayacik), Muhamed (Ercan Karacayli), Leyla (Siir Eloglu), and Ali (Denis Moschitto), the latter’s blonde German wife Gabi (Petra Schmidt-Schaller), or the seniors’ grandchildren, 22-year-old Canan (Aylin Tezel) and six-year-old Cenk (Rafael Koussouris).
Previously, Yasemin and Nasrin Samdereli have scripted episodes of the popular German sitcom Turkish For Beginners, another multiethnic project turned into a feature film lately. Almanya’s humor is of a similar mold. The movie makes fun of cultural misunderstandings, particular those between Germans and Turkish once their two groups collide, exposes ethnic stereotypes, and gently asks what constitutes national identity without insulting anyone.
With Almanya, the Samderelis manage a great balancing act between comedy, drama, and documentary. Their incorporation of black-and-white archive footage on the history of guest workers in Germany is simply outstanding and makes a remarkable exposition. Many viewers will probably also shed a tear or two when watching the film’s ending, a fitting conclusion by which the whole story comes full circle.