When We Leave: Immigrant Melodrama in Berlin

With her young son in tow, Umay (Head-On's Sibel Kekilli) walks out on her abusive husband and foregone conclusion of a life in Istanbul. She returns to her family in Berlin, where she grew up and, presumably, assimilated a larger idea of her possibilities. But to her parents and three siblings, Umay's a closed book at 25, and they're shamed by the watchful eyes of neighbors, judging this unheard-of defection. Striving to build an independent life while masochistically petitioning for family acceptance (and fending off their attempts to kidnap her child), Umay dutifully absorbs her emotional drubbing. The cycle of attempted reconciliation, prostration, ululation, recovery, and relapse that coils around the narrative tends to stifle Umay's development as anything more than a martyr, but it also gives focus: This is opinionated, genuinely aggrieved melodrama, with no palliative multikulti reassurance. Debut writer/director Feo Aladag tells Umay's story in glances as much as in dialogue. Each member of the family, drawn in quick strokes, expresses an individual personality torn between inherent bonds of sympathy and forced callousness in obedience to community mores. And Kekilli, more than an unofficial spokeswoman for rebellious Euro-Muslim youth, sells a simple and deterministic story through her sheer presence and precise reaction shots.

 
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