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September 30th, 2012

Fresh Start: Transnational and Cultural Movements of Identity in Auf der anderen Seite


Ella Shohat and Robert Stam make the point that approaches in post structuralism and post structural film theories that explore ethnicities are arguably located within the critical orbit of Eurocentric narratives and viewpoints (Shohat and Stam 1995: 2001: 2006). These Eurocentric approaches to cinema, which shape production practices and criticism, fail to challenge the idea of ‘the narrative of the nation as a .unified entity’ (Ibid: p 40 2006) which has come to dominate critical enquiry into national cinemas. In this way cinematic practice and criticism can work to restrict critical debates which aim to set out a historical and geographic context for diasporic identities located within cultural difference. This inquiry will concentrate on how social and cinematic discourses related to accented and diasporic cinema such as displacement, restriction and confinement combine to deconstruct nationalist myths and provide a wider context for the representation of culturally different Turkish-German identities in Fatih Akin’s Auf der anderen Seite (English title: The Edge of Heaven 2007).


Fatih Akın, Auf der Anderen Seite

Alternative critical frameworks from within non Eurocentric approaches to cinema (Naficy 2001: Wayne 2002) allow a reconfiguration of the concept of German-Turkish cinema in more heterogeneous ethnically specific terms as part of a rethink of the cinematic category of German 'migrant cinema' which can be seen as grounded within a Eurocentric discourse orientated around received Western ideas about European 'art' cinema. This rethink of the category follows on from arguments set out by Denis Gökturk (2002) in identifying recent changes in the representation of culturally different identities in new German “migrant” cinema. Formerly, the postcolonial legacy of the Ottoman Empire and post-war immigration (combined with state policies of multiculturalism) had the effect of working to limit the range of cinematic representations of Turkish migrants to victim status (Burns 2009) as part of a ‘paternalist, sub national’ film culture. Typically, within these narratives the ‘problems of integration’ of the diasporic subject are a main focus and seen as caused by the ‘archaic rituals’ and ‘traditional beliefs’ of the newly arrived migrant marked by their failure to successfully integrate into a ‘civilised’ and ‘enlightened’ German society (Gökturk p249-252). Through combining a close reading of the film with recent theories on Eurocentrism and diasporic-accented cinema, this paper aims to demonstrate how Auf der anderen Seite explores the demarcations between cultural boundaries and interrogates the possibilities for legitimate cultural incorporation offered to the Turkish-Muslim diaspora, at a time when the German coalition government is undergoing a serious rethink of its post-war multicultural project.


The release of films such as Der schone Tag (A Fine Day Arslan 2000) and Im Juli (In July Akin 2000) can be seen as a rejection of this earlier tradition, marking the beginning of a genuinely transnational cinema in which the Turkish-German citizen is located in a much wider range of culturally different subject positions. Following Göekturk's argument this enquiry is an attempt to develop greater critical recognition of hitherto marginalised Muslim diasporic identities based on methods from within postcolonial film theory. Cinematic representations of culturally different German-Turkish identities within Akin's films can be seen as the product of a transnational intersection of class, gender and ethnicity which extensively draws upon the codes of accented and diasporic cinema. Given the centrality of the Turkish migrant to their narratives the use of the more specific term diasporic Turkish-German cinema can potentially allow a wider understanding of how such transnational and hybrid cultural identities are negotiated in relation to social democratic consensus to register a diasporic voice that re-negotiates the power relations of Germany’s post-colonial social order. These social and cinematic discourses can be readily identified in Akin’s Gegen die Wand (2004) as well as Auf der anderen Seite where they are mobilised in order to articulate the culturally different identities of the Turkish-Muslim gastarbeiter or guest worker as fluid and contradictory and to play out contemporary social concerns around Islam which have recently re-emerged in official public debate in Germany since 9/11 and ‘The War on Terror’. Such concerns also find further resonance today in the contemporary social anxieties experienced by second generation Turkish-German guest workers and in the recent controversial debate on the social and cultural impact of the federal government’s multicultural project. This enquiry also argues that Akin's film locates it’s central protagonists within this cultural tension, which is played out in terms of a constant transnational movement between different geographical spaces that is allegorised as a series of psychic journeys to attain a coherent and secure sense of cultural identity.


Indeed, the release of these films is pertinent given that this crucial component of the German post-war settlement – the attempt to construct a multicultural society based upon social democratic principles of integration – has recently been heavily criticised as having ‘utterly failed’ by Chancellor Angela Merkel in a  speech at a conference with coalition partners at Potsdam (16 October 2010). Merkel’s comments, which claim that ‘German and foreign workers could not live happily side by side’ are symptomatic of a clearly emerging trend that has taken place over the past five years in Germany. In the context of economic stagnation and high unemployment, criticism of Muslim communities linked to their supposed failure to attain social and economic convergence with the nation state - the process referred to as ‘leitkultur’ - has gained an increasing degree of social legitimacy within the discourses of Western bourgeois liberalism (Mittelman 2010). A distinct shift to the political right within government policies on immigration have also been repeated across Europe in countries such as France, Holland and Austria, which have subtly drawn upon the ideas of far-right nationalist parties across the continent1 to reconfigure social democratic models of integration and multiculturalism. The speech by the leader of the ruling centre-right CDU led coalition, which has sought to place further onus on Germany’s Arab and Turkish immigrants (integrationsverweigerer) to do more to integrate into German society, can possibly be seen as a political attempt to placate allies of the government in it’s more right wing FDP and CSU sister parties. Nonetheless, this attack represents the latest and most high profile condemnation of the German multicultural project, following on the heels of comments made by Bundesbank member Thilo Sarrazin in a recently published book Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab (Germany is Destroying Itself). The publication, which is now the highest selling non-fiction title in post-war German history, warns of the social and economic consequences of a low national birth rate, continued immigration and increasing poverty. Sarrazin’s claims that German economic strength and national identity has been substantially undermined by post-war Turkish and Arab Muslim immigration and the subsequent refusal of migrants to fully integrate into society has went on to gain sympathetic support amongst sections of the general public, widespread coverage in the media and received official backing from the main far-right political grouping The National Democratic Party (NDP). He goes on to issue apocalyptic warnings based on the premise that ‘indigenous’ German culture will be ethnically contaminated by an encroaching Islam, that future generations will encounter a society where Turkish and Arabic is widely spoken and aspects of Sharia Law will come to prominence as the veil and headscarf become more commonplace. Sarrazin also argues that due to the higher fertility rates within German migrant communities the country’s Muslim population is predicted to grow from the present figure of 4.2 million (which at present is the highest absolute and relative number of migrants from outside the EU in any European country) to over 35 million by 2100.


Still from Fatih Akın, Auf der Anderen Seite (2007)

Contemporary political debate and policies on immigration and multiculturalism contrast sharply with those within the immediate post-war era when Turkish and Arab labour was considered fundamental to national reconstruction and the sustained period of economic expansion often referred to as the ‘economic miracle’ or wirtschaftswunder. Consequently, incoming guest workers were easily absorbed by the economic boom within its rapidly expanding industrial sector during the 1950s and 1960s, and were actively recruited and officially encouraged to settle in Germany as guest workers right up until a legitimation crisis within Western capitalism took root within the domestic economy by the mid 1970s. However, as guest workers immigrants fundamentally retain foreigner or Ausländer status and have only been permitted to remain in the country on a temporary basis with permanent settlement strongly discouraged as part of successive government policies. Whereas those with Ausländer status may be permitted to live in the country with relative ease, this does not bring about any change in national status or citizenship, although this system was relaxed slightly with the introduction of the 1990 Foreigners Law which established a legal claim of citizenship for long-term foreign and second generation residents. Full naturalisation and citizenship is very difficult to obtain as immigrant children remain foreigners in their place of birth and are expected to be ready to leave German soil when requested to do so by government. This is arguably the main reason why identification with ethnic cultures and languages was actively encouraged and facilitated within government policies. Thus, while the absorption of (non EU) Muslims was significantly curtailed through the introduction of new legislation in 1973, 1993 and 2005 there has also been a further consolidation of Turkish-Islamic culture as the wives and children of guest workers migrated into the country. Temporary integration or integration auf zeit has manifestly worsened the material situation of its Muslim diaspora, locating its subjects at the centre of a contradiction between the need to integrate into German social life and the necessity of maintaining cultural differences – so although they may be born in Germany, they are not treated as full German citizens or as welcome guests.


The concept of ‘accented cinema’ (Naficy 2001) is an emerging paradigm which is particularly relevant to the representation of Turkish-German diasporas within Akin’s films. It attempts to provide a critical methodology that explains how these culturally heterogeneous and different identities are negotiated within European ‘national’ cinema narratives. Such codes can also be identified within a diverse selection of recent French diasporic films such as Entres les murs (The Class Cantet 2008) and Paradis Allez (Paradise Now Assad 2005) as well as contemporary British and French examples such as In This World (Winterbottom 2002) and Le Havre (Kaurismäki 2011) which attempt to interrogate the experiences of culturally different identities within a post colonial context. Each of these cinematic examples interrogate diasporic cultural identities, often through utilising an open form, fragmentary narrative structure, often incorporating flashback, voice-over narration, direct address and critically juxtaposed editing. This range of cinematic discourses are mobilised in order to support reading positions from which to “comment upon and critique the home and host countries societies and cultures” (ibid: p4).


A tension between integration and cultural difference forms the main axis of conflict and negotiation within the narrative and social discourses of the films as characters appropriate from a range of traditions and practices to make up hybrid cultural identities that are placed on the margins of German society. Both Gegen die Wand and Auf der anderen Seite explore this tension through their focus on the experiences of three culturally different and marginalised diasporic subjects that are Ausländers in Germany and three others that alternatively engage in some form of attempt to enter Turkey to find a loved one or to return to their homeland. Each of its three main stories of the latter film are interlinked with each other within a decentred narrative structure: two of these strands focus on the death of one of its main characters (with titles introducing; Yeter’s Death and Lotte’s Death) with another focusing on two journeys back to Turkey to search for redemption and closure in relation to these deaths (The Edge of Heaven).


Still from Fatih Akın, Auf der Anderen Seite (2007)

The public histories of diasporic groups pertaining to significant national European events are fore-grounded in Auf der anderen Seite and are clearly linked with the private histories and cultural memories of the diasporic subject, usually to highlight the structured absences of characters and their relatives who are displaced or missing because of social conflicts within the homeland. Connections between the recent public histories of Turkey and the private memories of characters are extensively explored at a psychic and political level in the film through the mother and daughter figures of Yeter and Ayten Öztürk. Mother and daughter become displaced and separated from one another (literally into different narrative strands) because of the repressive state measures deployed against secular leftist Kurdish groups during their struggle for political recognition in the period of repressive military rule during the 1970s – a painful sequence of events which, not unlike the earlier mass genocide of Armenian Turks, the Turkish state is all too anxious to erase from official history and cultural memory, given its maturation into a modern democratic country on the verge of applying for EU membership. These events are initially hinted at in the first narrative strand Yeter’s Death as Ali Aksu, his son Nejet and Yeter sit down to a meal on the terrace one evening as the newly formed couple discuss the end of their previous marriages. Yeter goes on to tell Ali that her husband died in 1978 during the infamous Maras massacre indicating that she is originally from a Kurdish Alevi cultural background, and confesses that she has taken to prostitution in order to fund her daughter Ayten’s education back home. Following the massacre, in which Government supported ultra right nationalist factions violently attacked local communities killing over 100 people on the Black Sea coast (see Sökefeld 2008), significant numbers of Alevi went on to flee Turkey and migrate to Hamburg and Bremen where they continue to maintain a politically active presence through organisations such as Türk Isçileri Baris Birligi (The Turkish Workers Peace Union) and Yurtseverler Birligi (The Patriots Peace Union). Each of the first two narrative strands open with establishing shots of street demonstrations celebrating Workers Solidarity marches, in Bremen and an unnamed Turkish city on the Black Sea, as if to further reinforce the link between characters/sub-plots and political struggles across geographical spaces.


The second storyline, Lotte’s Death, brings about a shift in the film’s viewpoint to explore these concerns more fully in relation to Yeter’s daughter Ayten who is introduced as a radical left activist on a protest march against the social and political policies of The Turkish government. It begins with the sound of a helicopter overhead and a high angled view of crowded streets full of protestors calling for greater human rights and social justice. The cut to a wide view at street level reveals the demonstrators holding placards featuring the members of their local community who have been imprisoned by the Turkish authorities. After one of the crowd is identified as a policeman a violent disturbance ensues and in the chaos a hooded demonstrator picks up a discarded pistol and runs off with the police in pursuit. After the demonstrator, who is now identifiable as a young woman hides the pistol on a roof-top, armed police, acting on information from a cell phone which she had dropped, burst into the tenement block where she lives on a dawn raid, leading out arrested activists into awaiting police vans, but fail to find the young woman who quietly slips away from the area. As one girl is led out in handcuffs, she struggles with police, loudly calling out the names of fellow compatriots who have either been imprisoned or murdered for political activities by the state:


‘My name is Öznur…Öznur Kulck…My name is Gökce Tuna…I am Nurhan Erkas!’


Still from Fatih Akın, Auf der Anderen Seite (2007)

Again, explicit links are made between the recent public history of Turkey and its brutal repression and internal displacement of ethnic minority groups such as the Alevi and the private histories and memories of the film’s central characters which are shaped by their cultural marginalisation and difference. After escaping to Hamburg where the woman meets up with two male Turkish contacts and given a false name and identity - Gul Korkmaz - at a hostel-café which they clandestinely run, she is forced out onto the street after borrowing money that she can’t pay back after attempting to locate her mother who was last living in Bremen. It now becomes clear that the woman is Ayten Öztürk, the estranged daughter mentioned by the Turkish-German prostitute during the opening story.


It is curious that both mother and daughter as diasporic subjects also use dual names, indicating the split in their cultural ethnic identities. In the first storyline, Yeter uses a pseudonym when entertaining clients at her home in Hamburg. When she is first sexually propositioned by a retired widower Ali Aksu she introduces herself under the western moniker of Jessie, only for Ali to realise that she is actually of Turkish origin and then momentarily refuse to engage in any sexual act with Jessie/Yeter because he is ashamed of her profession which he considers inappropriate for a woman from his own cultural background. By the same token, Ayten is told to adopt the name Gul Korkmaz by her contacts on entering Germany so as to provide her with an alias in order to safeguard against discovery by the government and the immigration authorities. In Jessie/Yeter’s case the reason for concealing her cultural identity is later indicated to be for the purposes of avoiding persecution as when seen sitting alone on public transport she is criticised by two Turkish males who condemn her activities ‘as a Muslim and a Turk’ before warning her to stop offering sexual services and ‘repent’. In turn, this plot development motivates Jessie/Yeter to take-up Ali’s earlier offer that she live at his home in return for payment. Ultimately, this ambivalent signification of the figures of Ayten/Gul and Jessie/Yeter points toward the negotiation of hybrid Turkish-German cultural identities within the context of contemporary European social relations.


With the geographical shift to Hamburg, the focus of the film’s concerns moves away from the plight of internally displaced ethnic minorities in Turkey to focusing upon the social experiences of newly arrived undocumented Turkish migrants in Germany. Ayten then meets Lotte Staub, an attractive young female student from a comfortable middle class background who becomes sympathetic to her plight, as the two then begin a close personal and physical relationship with Ayten agreeing to move in and stay at Lotte’s mother’s house – much to her disapproval. This tension reaches a head in the kitchen during breakfast when Lotte’s mother, Susan, asks Ayten about her cultural and political background after Ayten confesses that she has illegal undocumented status. In the mid-shot view of the kitchen, Susan is domestically inscribed sitting in the foreground at the table busily preparing cherries for a pie, while Ayten stands in the background in sweat pants and top smoking a cigarette and preparing coffee. Not proficient in each others native language they strike up a tense conversation in English about human rights and political action which highlights the contradictions in Germany’s relationship with Turkey:


Susan:        ‘My daughter told me you were persecuted for political activities’.

Ayten:       ‘Yes. I am a member of a political resistance group in Turkey’.

Susan:        ‘And what exactly are you fighting for?’

Ayten:      ‘We are fighting for human rights…freedom of speech…and socialism. In Turkey just people with money can get education’.

Susan:        ‘Maybe things will get better once you get into the European Union?’

Ayten:       ‘Ah…I don’t trust the European Union’.

Susan:        ‘And why not?’

Ayten:      ‘Who is leading the European Union? England, France and Germany…and Italy…and   Spain. These countries are all colonial

                 countries. Its globalisation and we are fighting against that’.

Susan:        ‘Maybe you are a person that just likes to fight?’

Ayten:      ‘You think I am crazy? If a country kills the people, the fault, just because they think different or look different or because they   

                  protest to have work…and energy and schools. You have to fight back’.

Susan:        ‘Maybe everything will get better once you get into European Union?”

Ayten:        ‘Ah fuck the European Union, ya?’

Susan:        ‘I don’t want you to talk like that in my house. You can talk like that in your house okay?”

Ayten:       ‘Okay’.


Lotte concerned that Ayten is upset agrees to go away with her to try to find her mother in Bremen. After being caught by police following a routine traffic stop, Ayten requests asylum to remain in Germany. During the asylum hearing at the local administrative court, Ayten’s application is turned down. An official court verdict is then formally read out and spoken through an (unseen) voice-over pronouncing how the application does not have any legitimacy under the German constitution and that there are no racial, religious or political grounds for allowing Ayten a right to remain. The voice-over is set against a sequence in Lotte’s bedroom as she remonstrates with her mother concerning the whereabouts of her passport and decision to leave Germany to try to be with Ayten. As Lotte proceeds to frantically search for the passport and then walk away from her front door and say goodbye to Susan, the voice-over attempts to justify the court ruling by indicating that the claim that Ayten will face persecution in Turkey can be disregarded as the country has applied for entry into the EU and now has a “respectable” human rights record.

Still from Fatih Akın, Auf der Anderen Seite (2007)


After failing to gain help from the German consulate, Lotte is directed to BARO, an organisation set up to provide aid for asylum cases where she is able to gain a permit for a prison visit from a sympathetic Turkish legal adviser. She is informed that Ayten is considered by the state to be a member of an illegal terrorist organisation and is being held in Üsküdar Women’s Prison and that she potentially faces a 15-20 year prison sentence. Shortly afterwards Lotte’s relationship with her mother breaks down when, during a telephone conversation, she says she is no longer prepared to financially support her daughter in her attempts to bring about Ayten’s release. Shortly afterwards, Lotte goes inside a German bookshop that specialises in left-wing literature in the centre of Istanbul, now owned by Nejet Aksu, to post an advertisement for local accommodation, remaining oblivious to a poster appealing for information about Yeter’s daughter that Nejet had earlier pinned to the notice board. After drinking tea Nejet gets to know Lotte a little more as she reveals her reasons for being in Istanbul and she agrees to take a flat which Nejet has for rent. At that point, when Lotte explains that she is there to help bring about the release of her friend from prison, Nejet asks her friend’s name to which she replies ‘Gül Korkmaz’ with the consequence that both remain unaware they are each trying to seek out the same person. Lotte finally gets to visit Ayten who asks her to retrieve the pistol that she hid on the roof-top at the opening of the storyline. In an almost exact shot-by-shot sequence echoing Ayten’s earlier movements, Lotte seeks out the building, climbs the stairs to find the roof-top door is locked. Exactly like Ayten did before her, she calls on the elderly woman that allowed her friend access and retrieves the pistol. In a further ironic twist as she is walking down a side street three young boys steal the bag containing the weapon and run off. Lotte follows in pursuit as they try to escape through the alleyways of the town, to eventually discover them sitting on some waste ground arguing over ownership of the package. After moving closer and confronting them she is shot by one of the group who then leave the weapon and run off. Ayten is then taken to the prison governor’s office, at which point, she initially refuses to co-operate with officials, suspecting that she is being questioned regarding her political activities, until they reveal Lotte’s killing and appeal for her co-operation in resolving the matter in return for a release:


Prison Governor:  ‘Look, I’m not asking you to betray anyone. I don’t care about your organisation. But, we’ve an international crisis on our hands. Important men from abroad are here asking questions. We are peacefully asking for your co-operation. Yesterday afternoon you had a visit from a German citizen, and five hours later she was found dead on the street. Why? How do you know her? If you answer our questions we will help you. You know your sentence will be pronounced soon. Help us and use your “right to repent” and you might get off free’.


This request can be located as part of a wider political objective on the part of the prison governor. Namely, that there is a pressing diplomatic need to satisfy the German government and its consulate in Istanbul regarding the suspicious circumstances behind the death of an attractive young, white middle-class German woman on its soil. Clearly, the threat of a diplomatic incident is too high a price to pay and has to be avoided at all costs when it potentially threatens Turkey’s new found self-image and it’s international reputation as a peaceful democratic society that is in the process of applying for EU membership in the near future.


The German bookshop and adjacent flat located in Istanbul plays a significant role in all three narrative strands in that it seems to also provide a transnational cultural space of refuge, initially for its original owner, a German national named Markus Obermüller, Nejet and, ultimately, Susan Staub who each decide to leave Germany for various reasons and settle down there and make it their home. Nejet’s decision to buy the shop from Markus follows his decision to leave his position as a university professor in Germany to find Yeter’s missing daughter and provide for her education out of remorse, after his father Ali, suspicious that they were having an affair, inadvertently struck and killed her during a drunken rage at their home in Bremen. This search for home or refuge seems to resolve a strong sense of placelessness within these three central characters which is born out of a sense of nostalgia, loss and exile. As he enters the premises and casually browses the shelves, the pace of the film’s narrative movement is slowed down by a long tracking shot. The camera tracks Nejet’s movements inside in mid shot as Bach’s Minuet in G: The Notebook, played with a tanbur (a traditional Turkish stringed instrument) is heard in the background, indicating that a perfect balance between the cultural forces of the Western and Islamic enlightenments is at play within this space. After Nejet eventually wanders over to meet Markus, an unsettled and tactile figure, they proceed to sit down and drink çay. As they sit and chat in close-up Nejet and Markus come to realise that they share a personal desire to exchange their cultural-geographical locations with each another (in opposite directions) with the aim of finding a more secure sense of self:


Nejet:      ‘Why do you want to sell such a lovely shop?’

Markus:   ‘I’ve been here ten years now and, all of a sudden, I find myself missing Germany and the language as well…and even though I’m

                 surrounded by it here, with all this literature. But it’s like a museum here. Extinct. Like Latin…And, I’ve been feeling homesick’.

Nejet:       ‘I understand. How much would it cost?’

Markus:   ‘What was your name again?’

Nejet:      ‘Nejet Aksu.”

Markus:   ‘What’s your profession?’

Nejet:      ‘I’m a professor of German in Germany...’

Markus:  ‘That would be funny if…a Turkish professor of German from Germany ends up in a German bookshop in Turkey. That


Nejet:       ‘Yes maybe…’


This theme which is set out in relation to the role of the bookshop/flat is further explored in the third narrative strand The Edge of Heaven which centres upon Susan Staub’s attempts to reconcile herself with the death of Lotte, as well as focusing on the deportation of Ali back to Turkey and the return to his birthplace in Trabzon following his release from prison for the killing of Yeter. Unable to come to terms with the death of her daughter, Susan is shown as deeply upset at night in her hotel room. She meets Nejet who then offers his condolences and agrees to a request to take her to his flat where Lotte rented a room to collect her personal belongings. As they are seen traveling in a taxi through the busy streets of Istanbul, Susan can’t help but remark how much the city has changed since she was last there thirty years ago while hitch-hiking to India. When Nejet gives her some time to be left alone in Lotte’s bedroom Susan begins to read her daughter’s diary. As she settles down to read the diary, Lotte’s voice-over is heard narrating its contents. Lotte’s voice goes on to explain her decision to go to Turkey through drawing parallels with Susan’s own decision to travel across geographical-cultural boundaries on her own journey through Europe and Asia as a young woman. After Susan meets up with Nejet they settle down to a traditional Turkish meal at a local café. When she proposes a toast to “death” Nejet agrees to allow her to stay in the flat for an indefinite period as Susan then resolves to take on Lotte’s personal quest of freeing Ayten from prison as a gesture of support and reconciliation. Susan’s gesture prompts Ayten to exercise her right of repentance and renounce her involvement with the resistance movement in return for gaining an amnesty, culminating in her eventual release from prison.


Nejet meets up with Susan as the three day Muslim festival of Bayram commences in the city. When she learns that the festival commemorates Ibrahim’s sacrifice of his son Ishmael, Susan comments that it is exactly echoed by the same story in the Bible where Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac in order to prove his religious devotion. As they listen to the call to prayer, Nejet then remembers being frightened by the story as a child and asking his father whether he would sacrifice him if ordered to by God in the same way as Ibrahim. When Susan asks what his father’s answer was, Nejet replies that he told him “He would make God his enemy in order to protect me.” Nejet, then taking down the poster of Yeter, asks Susan to look after the shop while he sets off to drive to Trabzon to reconcile with his father. Susan then invites Ayten to stay at her at the small town where she now lives to, in turn, reconcile herself with her late daughter Lotte. Following Naficy’s argument, recollections of childhood experiences are a common feature of accented and diasporic cinemas and often take the form of an imagined past which serves to motivate a ‘journey of identity’ (Op cite. p235) for its central characters that, in this instance, underpins Nejet’s decision to travel to Trabzon and attempt to reconstruct their father/son relationship. The next sequence is an exact repeat of the opening of the film: it again begins with a distant shot of a filling station where a white saloon car stops in the forecourt and a driver gets out asking for petrol and then goes inside the adjoining shop. This time we recognize him as Nejet and are aware of the purposes of his journey. Inside, he is seen wandering around browsing the shelves, as he casually strikes up a conversation with the owner about how the music playing in the background is very popular on the Black Sea coast and how the musician recently died of cancer from the effects of Chernobyl. Nejet continues his journey along the coast through Filyos as the sequence on the road alternates between location shots of Turkish villages, images of the road ahead and close-ups of him at the wheel. On arrival, Nejet is informed that his father Ali is away fishing for the day. In the final shot, he is shown sitting at the shore awaiting Ali’s return.


The narrative and thematic concerns of Auf der anderen Seite, in borrowing from the components of accented cinema, define their central characters as alienated outsiders who have to partake in constant transnational movement across borders and between the different geographical and cultural spaces of both Germany and Turkey. These journeys, which work to structure the narrative, seem to offer the promise of a fresh start for the diasporic subject, as in the examples of Nejet’s decision to go to Istanbul to search for Ayten and then on to Trabzon to reconcile with his father Ali, which are motivated by his sense of self sacrifice. Ayten’s decision to enter Germany as an undocumented migrant gives voice to the social experiences of displaced internal ethnic groups in the context of an ever expanding European Union. This narrative strand (Lotte’s Death) also explores the recent public histories of the Turkish nation state such as the Maras massacre in relation to the private memories of living within the Alevi diaspora on the Black Sea coast and in Hamburg. Ali and Lotte’s journeys to Turkey link into the theme of personal redemption of the self through resettlement and function to enact a renegotiation of the culturally situated power relations between German and Turkish identities. Such transnational movements are played out within each of the narrative strands as psychic journeys to attain a coherent and secure sense of cultural identity that seems to be tentatively within one's grasp. This contributes to an overall thematic-political project which is played out in the continual movements and departures of characters across geographical spaces through repeated motifs of travel. Long distance journeys by car are a central theme in this respect: Nejet’s journeys to Istanbul and then Trabzon, and Ayten’s escape to Hamburg all draw heavily on the iconography of travel, signified through widely framed, expansive landscape shots of rural villages, petrol stations, hotels and bus depots. Ultimately, the film relocates Turkish ethnicities and diasporas at the centre of its narrative strands, drawing upon the codes of accented cinema to articulate hybrid cultural identities within the post colonial context of contemporary German society. Voice-over, critically juxtaposed editing and fragmented narrative are used to explore the demarcations between cultural boundaries and interrogate the possibilities for legitimate cultural incorporation offered to the Turkish-Muslim diaspora, at a time when the German coalition government is undergoing a serious rethink of its post-war multicultural project. Use of the critical model of accented cinema allows a critical focus on how the narrative and visual components of the film can potentially work to transform social relations and cultural identities beyond the narrow confines imposed within Eurocentric discourse.


Keith Hussein is a Lecturer at the University of Sunderland








  1. This argument is put forward by Zizek (2010) who claims that the racist discourse of extreme nationalist groups has entered into the language of respectable public debate in Europe.







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