Almanya: an upbeat, cliché-defying (his)story of integration
by Bénédicte Prot
12/02/2011 - Presented out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival before a delighted and merry audience, Almanya – Welcome to Germany [trailer] is a typically German film despite its Turkish title. Indeed, the fact that this title refers, in Turkish, to the country of pork sausage eaters makes it a particularly German work, beyond the fact the film was produced entirely in Germany (by Roxy Film).
The Turkish-German vein is not the least explored in Teutonic cinema, although it is often done so from the perspective of identity conflict, in all its nuances. Here, director Yasemin Samdereli opts, as she usually does (she previously brought us the comedy Alles Getürkt and hit TV series Turkish For Beginners), for a light-hearted tone bathed in a human warmth that is touching in its simplicity.
Not that the screenplay is simplistic, quite the contrary – Yasemin for that matter wrote 50 versions with her sister Nesrin before coming up with the final one. The identity quest of second and third-generation Turkish-German immigrants is a starting point here: when, in class, little Cenk, sees the pin marking his Anatolian origins stuck in, isolated, outside the map of Europe, then he is rejected, in sport, by both the Turkish and German teams, his cousin, herself feeling torn, decides to tell him the family epic which brought them to Germany.
At the same time, the grandfather who started everything and holds everything together, who recently acquired German nationality (and was invited by Angela Merkel to a ceremony thanking Turkish workers received by Germany from 1961 onwards), decides (paradoxically, we may think) to take the whole family to his home country, where he has just bought a house.
The film is therefore structured around a series of to-ings and fro-ings between the two countries and a proliferation of different narrative levels (History with a capital H, personal histories and the differing fables that each family member has created for themselves), as well as a bunch of clichés that are all the funnier for being presented as such – moreover, the film opens with a series of family photos, clichés in the literal, photographic sense, accompanied by a commentary suggesting from the outset this constant subjectivity.
The Samdereli sisters so effectively avoid any manicheism that we gladly laugh at the recurrence in two forms of certain motifs (dogs, wandering free or on a lead; toilets, Turkish-style or not) or at the gibberish Germans seem to speak (like Chaplin in The Great Dictator) in the ears of newly-arrived foreigners. Meanwhile, the film advances, with joyfulness and good humour (tinged with nostalgia at the end), guided by the figure of the grandfather, towards a full reconciliation. Like each individual it focuses on, Almanya is the colourful fruit of a unique amalgam which, beneath much gaiety, contains a moving and profound message.
(Translated from French)