Friday, 11 March 2011

Almanya, Yasemin & Nesrin Samdereli, Germany 2011

"Islam is part of Germany, and I am the President of all Germans, Muslims included", thus spoke German President Christian Wulff in his speech to commemorate the 20th anniversary of German reunification last October. Though long overdue, Wulff's words were greeted by a collective sigh of relief by the country's well-nigh 5 million Muslims. However, in a climate where much of Europe is gripped by Islamophobia, Wulff's speech was not equally welcomed by all parts of German society. To underline his point of view, Wulff made it a point to attend the world premiere of Almanya along with his wife Bettina. Not exactly known to be a cineaste, his appearance was therefore rightly read as a (political) statement, and again, one that didn't come a minute too soon.

The team of Almanya at the film's world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival three weeks ago. On the right is German President Christian Wulff and his wife Bettina.

Not dissimilar to Wulff, Almanya, too, can be seen as political statement, or rather, an outstretched hand by Germany's Turkish community whose relationship with its host country - which has long become home to many - has been a choppy one, to put it mildly. Almanya is worth seeing for a whole number of reasons. Not only does it offer those Germans whose contact with their Turkish neighbours have been, shall we say, infrequent, a rare glimpse into the world of Germany's primary immigrant community. By so doing, the film makes clear that the lives of the Turkish family next door isn't that different from their own. Almanya shows how - usually - unfounded prejudices on both sides have characterised, if not marred, the relationship between Germans and Turks from the first. What's more, more Turks have made ample efforts to assimilate, including partaking in annual Christmas celebrations and so forth, than one is led to believe by reading the daily press.

What else is new?, you might understandably ask, but bearing in mind that misconceptions about Islam have reached fever pitch, never mind that most of it is based on ignorance, Almanya is a crucial contribution regarding the understanding between both, Germans and Turks. I realise as I'm writing this that this sounds like a text written by a human rights activist some 50 years ago. And yet, such is the debate and the anti-Muslim sentiment here in Europe that a film such as Almanya comes as much needed comic relief, not to mention that its educational role cannot be overestimated as it shows, for instance, that religion plays as little a role in the average Turkish family as it does in its German counterpart. But for all its merit and good intentions, Almanya's messages are easy to digest since they come with a twinkle in the eye rather than wrapped in bitterness or with a wagging finger.

Given its very positive reception at the Berlin Film Festival, the film's nominations for the German Film Awards, not to mention the considerable editorial coverage Almanya has received in the German media, I sincerely hope that the film will be seen by a multitude of people as it's not only interesting and often hilariously funny, but also beautiful to look at and highly entertaining.

Yasemin and Nesrin Samdereli, the writer-directors of Almanya