Whatever feelings “A Regular Woman,” a first-person account of a victim of an “honor killing” among Turkish Kurds in Germany, smug superiority barely enters the mind.
German director Sherry Hormann, working from a script based on an infamous 2005 case, summons up outrage, heartache, worry and judgement in 90 tight and damning minutes. But as our heroine and narrator, the late Hatun “Aynur” Sürücü (Almila Bagriacik) takes us from arranged marriage (in the eighth grade) to separation, nagging to harassment to actual abuse by her own family after she flees the brute, Hormann never encourages us to take the “Well, that’s THEM” attitude.
This barbaric practice isn’t exclusively Muslim, for starters. And an observant Westerner can’t help but feel creepy similarities to what we see in extremist patriarchies the world over — Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Mormon among them. “Controlling women” is what all such ancient customs have in common, with threats and intimidation more widespread than actual murder.
Hormann tells this story “Sunset Boulevard” fashion, with Aynur narrating as we see her body, covered in a sheet, on a German street. The narration is something of a crutch — over-used. But that’s how Hormann has her lay it all out there for us, and how she keeps her movie impressively short and tight.
From her arranged marriage (carried out in Turkey) at 15 onward, Aynur shows us a family hellbent on maintaining cultural (not necessarily religious) traditions and gender roles, no matter how long they’ve lived in the West.
“Men don’t like loud women,” is her mother’s (Meral Perin) wedding day advice. And that razor blade she slips her? Well, that’s another way of avoiding “shaming” the man.
We don’t see the abuse that sends her, pregnant and fleeing, back to her family’s crowded (nine children) flat. But Aynur is quick to acknowledge “being a disgrace,” and very German in the way she methodically lists why family members would be the cruelest, the one break-dancing older sibling in law school who’d have her back, and the one who would eventually kill her — egged on by his brothers.
She also lists the six “justifications” for honor killing within her culture, and they are as chilling as you’d imagine.
The three brothers (Rauand Taleb, Mehmet Atesci, Aram Arami) who give her the most trouble are archetypal villains — brutish, scowling fundamentalists who don’t need a radical Imam’s encouragement to be monstrous to her for “shaming” their father and their family by giving up on the marriage, moving out as a single mom, pursuing an education and a career.
But that Imam gives his thumb’s up anyway, for what that’s worth, although he notes, “Stoning is not permitted in Germany.”
We can puzzle over why Aynur doesn’t flee, what binds her to a family which, after she moves out, only maintains contact with furtive visits and calls cursing her out at all hours of the day and night. Aynur acknowledges that.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she narrates (in German with English subtitles). “Is she still so stupid?”
We know the answer to that, and no amount of explaining can allay that fear. We know how this ends.
The pathos here is built-in, a young mother with an adorable child, trying to better herself and her life in a part of the world where women have more of a shot at a better life. The drama is waiting to see where the alliances will fall, who will resist and in what ways “the system” will fail her.
There are sympathetic bureaucrats and rigid by-the-book types who never let practical considerations like credible threats to a woman’s life get in the way of their “rules.”
“Regular” Germans are eyewitnesses to some of this, parties to it on the bus — where they see Aynur assaulted and threatened — and in the courts.
The performances are quite good, although I could have used more terror and fury from Bagriacik’s Aynur. She gets there. Eventually. The three actors playing the brothers are variations on a hulking, hateful theme — poster boys for abuse.
Few come off unscathed in this brisk portrait of a modern world reluctant to confront monstrous practices that some of those who move into it “for better lives” bring with them.
The voice-over, as I say, can feel over-used here. But Hormann uses still photograph montages to underscore and illustrate the “progress” Aynur is making in freeing herself from her “toxic” family — studying to be an electrician, losing the head scarf and freeing her hair, dancing in a night club for the first time in her life.
Hormann, whose “Desert Flower” was about female genital mutilation, hasn’t made another version of bluntly malicious (if factual and damning) “The Stoning of Saroya M.” But “A Regular Woman (Nur Eiene Frau)” doesn’t leave much doubt that Islam and Muslim cultures, in particular, have some serious civilizing to do if they want to wholly join the 21st century.
And western democracies that don’t listen to women or take this murderous practice — on the rise, by the way — seriously aren’t being tolerant or “respectful” of cultural differences. They have blood on their hands.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, some nudity, profanity
Cast:Almila Bagriacik, Meral Perin, Rauand Taleb, Mehmet Atesci, Aram Arami and Lina Wendel