Kuma begins at a wedding in a small mountain village in Turkey, although most of the action takes place in a flat in Vienna. The film’s protagonists travel a great distance from the joy of a nuptial, but they never quite leave behind their old village ways.
The wedding is between beautiful country girl Ayssa (played by Begüm Akkaya) and more sophisticated Hasan (Murathan Muslu) and they are due to return to Hasan’s family home in Vienna. However, whispers between Hasan’s parents suggest that everything is not quite as it appears. Indeed it is not. Hopefully a translation of the film’s title from Turkish is not too much of a spoiler – Kuma means second wife.
The marriage to Hasan is a sham. There are a few other twists in the tale that keeps the audience guessing, but this is not what makes the film so powerful. Instead it paints a picture of the deeply drawn characters and the relationships between them. The film is softly spoken, but the emotions run deeper than the Bosphorus.
The UK poster for Kuma has a quote from Allan Hunter reviewing the film for the Daily Express in which he compares the film to the Iranian Oscar winner A Separation. At first this comparison might seem a little crass – yes, both films are domestic dramas set in ‘Middle Eastern’ cultures, and the women even wear headscarves in both films, but that is not where the similarities lie. Kuma might not quite reach the cinematic perfection of A Separation, they both do share some similar qualities.
As in A Separation, the characters in Kuma are utterly believable – there are strictly no caricatures. Everyone is treated with the utmost compassion. We may not agree with how they behave, but it is impossible to look down on them. This makes for an exceptionally warm film – even when things are not going well for the people involved.
As mentioned earlier, most of the action takes place in the family’s Vienna flat. This is a household largely populated by women and the film is seen through the eyes of their eyes, especially the second wife. Nothing is at is appears in this family – traditions and religious prescriptions create a gulf between the reality of their lives and what they pretend is the case. Ayssa must pretend to be married to the son while actually being married to his father, which leads to more fabrications.
This tissue of lies just waits to unravel – good dramatic fare of course. But we also see something about the conflicts between duty and self, and what happens when you put others – your parents in particular – first.
Kuma is the first feature film by Umut Dağ, a student of Michael Haneke at the Vienna Film Academy. Unlike Haneke, Dağ doesn’t look through icy cold eyes. His film may rarely leave a slightly shabby flat, but the complex humanity of its occupants will leave us with questions but not lacking sympathy.
Kuma is out in cinemas on Friday 16 August.
Read out interview with director Umut Dağ here.