Interview with Umut Dağ

One of the softest spoken, but most affecting films to be released this week must be Kuma. We caught up with the director Umut Dağ.

Umut Dag

The film is set in a family of traditional Turkish immigrants to Vienna and looks at the phenomenon of second wives, or rather it looks at a close knit family and what happens when someone new is brought into the household. Umut is as softly spoken and eloquent as his film, we talked to him about feminism, his cinematic influences, and leaving things unspoken.

In many films, even social realist films, characters are often good or bad, but not so in your film. Instead all the characters are given great humanity.

One of the most important things for me was to not justify, to say what is good and what is bad. It was important because one of my biggest goals was to make sure the audience can understand and identify with every character, even with the mother. This was important for me as a film maker because one of my biggest motivations is to tell a story about characters who I don’t understand, whose motivations I don’t understand. Through this film making I tried to understand these people and give this feeling to an audience.

There is an interview on your website, where you said the film didn’t relate to your own experience growing up. So the film involved research?

Yes of course, but of course my background helped me a lot. I could ask my mother and relatives and so on. My family is not quite as traditional, but we know people who are, which helped a lot. We also researched with women’s rights organisations, who helped us understand the background and specific cases.

The film looks at the phenomenon of second wives, and very much from a female point of view. Would you say it is a feminist film?

I would say yes, but I’m afraid that some feminists might hate me for saying that. I heard that those with feministic points of view are divided, some love the movie and some hate it. So, I hope they get the point that we don’t justify [the idea of second wives], and instead we reach a core of humanity in the subjects.

At least one reviewer in the UK has compared the film to A Separation. Although this might be partly to make it easier to sell the film, there is some validity in this point of view – both films give their characters a great deal of humanity.

I watched A Separation after the release of my movie and really liked it a lot. For me it is a masterpiece as well, the best movie of last year was A Separation and this year [Thomas Vinterberg’s] The Hunt. It was so well made because you are not justifying anything, you don’t have any good or bad. When I saw the movie I got why people compare the two. But the comparison is a great honour – to say my movie is like A Separation is like winning an award, because [a Separation] is a masterpiece.

Do you have any influences?

I am a big fan of Un Prophète – it is one of my favourite films. I like Jacques Audiard a lot, because he reaches a level in which he can make movies that reach a big audience, but he makes it in such a way that is so intelligent and so high level, that it gets honoured at festivals like Cannes. This must be the goal, that you achieve a quality that reaches intelligent people and also film festivals.

The people in the film are trapped by traditions in some way. Although your film is free of judgement, you can’t help but think their lives would be happier without those traditions.

Of course you will think that, because most of the worst things in the movie happen because of the traditions, but it’s not only because of that. It’s also what people make from the traditions. For my characters it’s more important that other people in their environment, their relatives, see how they live these traditions. This acting for the outside world, makes the events in the film happen. Which is much worse than the traditions themselves… the social pressure.

A lot of the film is about what is not said as much as about what is said.

You have to find a balance between the spoken word and the not-spoken word. It’s much stronger if you can tell a story, or a part of a story, with only a look between two people. It can be strong, but it’s much harder because you have to act like hell. Otherwise it doesn’t work.

Perhaps costume dramas allow for much more of what is not said, as in the modern world we are meant to be so much more expressive and explicit?

Yes, but look at Andrea Arnold’s films. Fishtank is an amazing movie. She tells a lot with so little.

How did you find Ayssa?

We held castings for over a year in Vienna, Istanbul, Berlin and Cologne, but she is a young acting student from Istanbul. She’d acted in a small television series and in a few other smaller roles, so this was her first main role.

What are you up to next?

My next project is a drama between father and son called Cracks in Concrete. It is about a father who comes out of prison after ten years and searches for his son, but his son doesn’t know his father because he can’t remember him. The son is 15. It’s a drama with big emotions again. The father has a Turkish background, but that’s not the main thing about him. The mother of the son is Chechen. Murathan Muslu, who plays Hasan in Kuma, plays the main role in my next movie, the father character.

Kuma is out in cinemas on Friday 16th August.

Read our review of Kuma here.

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