Opens September 18
Forget what you’ve heard: In The Cut, the Armenians will be speaking Armenian, not accented English, as in a previous version of the film, shown at festivals to confounded critics. Tahar Rahim, as Nazaret Manoogian, will hardly speak at all: he’s left literally speechless by a neck wound. All the noise around German-Turkish director Fatih Akin’s new movie, however, is because many haven’t heard the Armenian Genocide spoken about—not really. In Turkey, the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of about a million Armenians is obliquely referred to as The Events of 1915.
This is what the events of 1915 look like in The Cut: Nazaret, a blacksmith in the town of Mardin, lives with his wife and twin daughters in total harmony, until he is forcibly conscripted by the Ottoman Army, sent to forced labor in the desert, then murdered, with the rest of the Armenian men; Armenian women and children are sent on forced marches, where most also succumb. Except Nazaret doesn’t die—the thief tasked with cutting his throat can’t bring himself to do it, and stabs where he should slash. Awaking in a pile of corpses, Nazaret finds that he has been severed from his voice, and thus from the living world; he can’t say what’s he’s seen. And if he could, who would understand it?
It’s a profoundly sensible narrative choice, in the same realm of stately drama as the Technicolor desert scenery and the Biblical inflections. But a drastic shift in tone is brought about by, of all people, Charlie Chaplin—it is the weight of film, not history, bearing down in The Cut. One screening of The Kid, one lucky meeting, and Nazaret is traveling the world in search of his reason to live. In Cuba, lithesome extras in white summer suits promenade past the camera; by the time Nazaret lands in the US, we’re in The Searchers territory.
Akin has said that he did intend to make a Western—his movie’s not about the genocide, it only starts there. But mass murder is a strange plot convenience, however useful it may be for Lebensraum. Many of the extras dying on-screen are themselves refugees—from the war in Syria, from Iraq and Iran. Chaplin made The Kid, but also The Great Dictator. Akin’s film is silent regarding its essential question: What starts in bloodshed—where does it end?