Film Review: The Cut

Armenian blacksmith cast adrift by World War I searches for his family in an ambitious but flawed period epic.
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Known for keenly incisive features like Head-On and documentaries like Crossing the Bridge, Turkish director Fatih Akin tackles a wider subject with The Cut. Encompassing the Armenian genocide, World War I and their aftermaths, the movie stretches from the Middle East to the United States. Ambitious and at times moving, The Cut doesn't quite overcome its narrative problems.

Akin has described The Cut as the third part of his "Love, Death and the Devil" trilogy, following Head-On and The Edge of Heaven. Perhaps due to the enormity of the story, the director adopts a traditional style of filmmaking that evokes David Lean and Elia Kazan's America, America. The Cut is restrained, austere, with few false steps, but little originality either.

The movie opens in Mardin, in 1915 still a part of the Ottoman Empire. A blacksmith and loving father, Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet) is forced into slave labor by Turkish soldiers. Fighting a losing battle against British forces, the Turks eventually slay their Armenian prisoners before fleeing.

Nazaret is spared by Mehmet (Bartu Küçükçağlayan), who brings him to a band of deserters hiding in the desert. Nazaret makes his way to a refugee camp in Ras al-Ayn, where he learns that his wife has died. However, their twin daughters Arsinée and Lucinée may still be alive.

The trail leads to Aleppo, where Nazaret is taken in by Omar Nasreddin (Makram J. Khoury), a soapmaker whose factory eventually becomes a haven for refugees. Nazaret finds tantalizing clues about his girls from schools and orphanages. He works on a passenger liner to Cuba, then makes his way to North Dakota, encountering benefactors and setbacks along the way.

Akin and co-writer Mardik Martin (who worked on Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and Raging Bull) provide little context for the Armenian genocide, a strategy that connects the movie to current crises, like Syria. Nazaret is an Everyman, not a religious victim, which Akin makes clear during an open-air screening of Charlie Chaplin's The Kid. Nazaret has even been rendered mute, limiting the talented Rahim to pantomime for much of the movie.

With its harsh deserts and ancient stone cities, the first half of the movie is visually spectacular. Akin and cinematographer Rainer Klausmann etch Nazaret's story with imagery that evokes a range from Goya to John Ford.

Once The Cut reaches the West, however, it seems to lose focus. Nazaret's story becomes more episodic, and his encounters resemble a checklist. Rumrunners, redneck racists, Irish racists, sweatshops, railroad section workers and the life drift by, each essentially repeating points that have already been made.

Akin is a talented, sensitive director who deserves credit for covering the Armenian genocide at all, let alone making it relevant to today's politics. And he has succeeded in fashioning a personal movie out of what was clearly a massive undertaking. The Cut still could have been better.

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