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For Your Consideration: 'The Cut'

President Obama has yet to refer to the massacre of Armenians in Turkey during World War I as a genocide, something he made a campaign promise to do. Among those who have been willing to cross the Turkish government on this issue are Pope Francis, Evgeny Kissin, and Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. Given that Turkish laws curtailing freedom of expression are hardly enlightened, it is not insignificant that Fatih Akin, the director of this new film about the Armenian genocide, is German and not Turkish. While Akin's previous major films (Head-On, The Edge of Heaven) are about the Turkish immigrant experience in Germany and lighter in tone, this screenplay is set directly against the background of that tragic episode in Turkish history.

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The Cut, directed by Fatih Akin
Nazaret Manoogian is a blacksmith in the small town of Mardin, not far from the border with Syria, where he and his family are members of the minority Armenian Christian community. He and his brother, like all young Armenian men in the town, are first separated from their families and sent off to work on chain gangs in the desert. While they are building roads, they see the next phase of this "extermination under the guise of deportation," as groups of women and children are force-marched past them further into the desert. (A similar religiously motivated extermination is being carried out in Syria and Iraq right now.)

In that sense, The Cut is not an attempt to show the Armenian genocide as a historical event, showing instead how such a devastating thing could unfold slowly, piece by awful piece -- so that even those targeted by the state's efforts would not understand what is happening to them until it is too late. Nazaret, played with steadfast calm by French actor Tahar Rahim, sees his brother and all his fellow conscriptees lined up to have their throats cut, but himself escapes with a wound to his throat that leaves him mute. He manages to track down his sister-in-law, abandoned like so many in a desperate desert camp, and never loses hope that he might find his twin daughters.

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So the film is about more than the events of the Armenian Genocide, following Nazaret as he follows the trail of his daughters throughout the Middle East, Cuba, and the United States. Armenians, long spread out from their homeland, as we understand it today, were under the thumbs of Persian, Byzantine, and Ottoman emperors, as well as the Soviet Union, and in the 20th-century diaspora were spread even farther and wider. It is a worldwide scope that threatens to collapse the film under its own weight at times, even after Akin's screenplay was sharpened by co-writer Mardik Martin, whose last major credit was a little film called Raging Bull in 1980. (Martin's family, of Armenian descent, fled Iraq to come to the United States.) The screenplay is based on careful historical research, although the characters are fictional, and the relationships that play on Nazaret are complex. His life is spared by a Turk, Mehmet (Bartu Küçükçaglayan), and a Muslim in Syria, played by Makram Khoury, takes pity on him in the desert and nurses him back to health. Not only does Nazaret lose his voice, he loses his faith in God; but no one could blame him for that.

This film opens today, at Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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