By Gordon Foote.
Kurdish director Umut Dag’s first full length film, Kuma, tells the story of a young, village girl who is recruited as a second wife (a Kuma), leaving her past existence behind and relocating to Austria.
I’ve wrestled with how best to review this Turkish/Austrian effort, simply because much of what makes it worth watching, and it is certainly that, relates to its treatment of issues within the plot, and I’m a firm believer in reviews not just telling you what happens in movies. As such, I feel honour-bound to give a spoiler warning for the paragraphs ahead, but for those of you looking to experience the film afresh, I’ll cover the two questions most people are looking to have answered by reading this. 1. Is Kuma a good movie? Yes. 2. Should you go and see it? If you like well acted, smartly scripted, domestic dramas: certainly.
Ok, you have been warned – from here on in, I’ll be discussing events from the plot.
Seen through my Western eyes, the entire premise of Kuma is bewildering. The adoption of a second wife, brought in to ensure the family’s needs are catered for after the existing matriarch is diagnosed with cancer, seems as alien a concept to me as anything Man of Steel had to offer. Yet, Petra Ladinigg’s screenplay manages effortlessly to break the viewer through this cultural divide, easing you into the world of Ayse, the titular Kuma, as we see that such practices are not commonplace, her role being obfuscated by mock-weddings and deceit.
This, not only, gives the film’s first act an air of mystery, driving you forwards to find out exactly what is going on, but also aids in your empathy for Ayse, someone else who has been thrust into a strange situation and is doing her best to keep up. Bėgum Akkaya’s performance, as Ayse, combines fragility, kindness, and enough hints at inner strength to make the character entirely believable, instantly winning the viewer over as jealousies and frustrations within her new family make her the regular target of derision. In her first major role, Akkaya’s portrayal provides one of the two columns Kuma is built on.
The other being Nihal Koldas’ turn as Fatma, known affectionately as “Mama”. As the film progresses, it is made clear that she is the orchestrator of Ayse’s situation, hand picking the young woman as her successor, should cancer claim her life. It is a wonderfully complex role, as we witness the ebb and flow of family dynamics shifting around Ayse and Fatma, the balance of power slowly slipping from the stern, controlling mother toward her compassionate, beleaguered successor. The script throws more family upset and tragedy into its hour-and-a-half run time than most soaps attempt in a whole season. On occasion, Kuma feels unrelenting; tackling a panoply of difficult issues but not really giving any of them enough time, or space, to breathe. However, as the film blends the likes of domestic abuse, homosexuality in a Muslim family, bubbling resentments, and even death, Ayse is seen growing to fill the role she was chosen for, despite Mama’s continued survival. Even a last minute twist which seems certain to see her return to the rank of outsider within the family is handled in such a way that it is hard to judge Ayse for it.
Functionally shot, wonderfully scripted, and housing some strong performances Kuma, like the girl whose story it tells, manages to take a wide variety of heavy topics on its shoulders without strain or complaint, refusing to stoop to melodrama. Its story builds slowly, taking its time to introduce its characters and world, refusing to let the usual pace of modern cinema influence it, and benefiting for its self-assuredness.
Out in cinemas 16th August
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.