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In 2009, director Fatih Akin came to the Venice Film Festival with his intimate culinary comedy, Soul Kitchen. That movie went on to win the festival’s jury prize, and he returned the following year to head the debut film award jury. Now he’s coming back yet a third time with The Cut, the German-Turkish director’s biggest film to date.
The $21 million movie shot across three continents completes his “Love, Death and the Devil” trilogy. His 2004 film Head-On, which won the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear, made waves as an unlikely love story between two Turkish immigrants in Hamburg. In 2009, his film The Edge of Heaven, about two parallel deaths turning worlds upside-down, took home best screenplay in Cannes.
The Cut, co-written with Mardik Martin (Mean Streets, Raging Bull) looks at the evil inherent in mankind. The film stars Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) as Nazareth Manoogian, a blacksmith who is separated from his family by Ottoman soldiers in 1915 at the start of the Armenian Genocide. Miraculously, he survives and learns that his twin daughters have as well. He embarks upon an odyssey halfway around the world to find them.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Akin ahead of The Cut‘s world premiere on Sunday.
How does it feel to be coming back to Venice after your success with Soul Kitchen?
I remember Venice as a very “hippie” place, very chill. People move from point A to point B by bike. The quality of the films is very exciting and high. There is a focus on fresh and alternative approaches in cinema. For Soul Kitchen, Venice was the best thing that could have happened to it. Being back makes me feel very happy, like being in a room without a roof.
Where did you get the idea for the trilogy “Love, Death and the Devil”?
“Love,” “Death” and “Devil” are three films that are my personal laboratory to understand the human being. But I’m afraid three films are not enough to understand the human factor.
When did you start conceiving of the idea for The Cut?
The first idea goes back to 2007. I dreamed about making the ultimate film about losing one’s home and identity and finding a new one in America. I delayed the project when I realized how expensive it would really be. When another project of mine about Hrant Dink (the Armenian journalist who was shot in Turkey 2007) collapsed, I turned back to The Cut. With the financial success of Soul Kitchen in Europe, the film was “bankable.”
What was the writing process like, collaborating with Mardik Martin?
I am a German writer. When I decided to shoot the film in English, which was absolutely necessary for the freedom of the casting, I needed more than a translator. I needed a screenwriter who had knowledge about the material. So the name Mardik Martin, who has an Armenian background, came up quite quickly. Mardik Martin is the former writer of such immortal films as New York, New York, Mean Streets and Raging Bull.
Through Martin Scorsese and the connection we have because of the World Cinema Foundation, Mardik Martin and I came together. I visited him in Los Angeles for 10 days and we went through the whole script. Once he was involved, it was clear that it was not just about finding the right language. Mardik turned everything upside down and cut the budget, so making the film became realistic.
Tahar Rahim plays a silent character in the film. How was it to tell the story mostly through images rather than dialoge?
It felt very comfortable. You didn’t have to focus on the talking at all. You went straight to the essence of a scene. You start to think differently. You even stop talking so much as a director. After this film, I would like to shoot silent films forever!
What was the biggest influence of the film?
There is a very long list of inspiration and role-models. But the most important influence is America, America by Elia Kazan, the story of a Greek emigrant who travels from Anatolia to New York, shot in the 1960s. Before doing The Cut I saw it again and again and again, studied every shot. Knowing Kazan went through all this made me feel safe and protected.
There are eight co-financing countries involved. What was it like to put together such a large project independently?
Such a film is only possible if your partners are cinema lovers — fair, full of passion, faithful and loyal, partners who believe more in the artistic result than in the box office. And we had such partners. I am deeply grateful for their support. This film was mainly produced by Fabienne Vonier and Karl Baumgartner, who passed away in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Without the passion of these two, this film would never have been made.
What new projects are you working on?
After such a film I would like to do a little, low-budget film in Germany. I am wondering if this is still possible for me or not. It’s a dark film, maybe a thriller. After that, I am planning to do a children’s movie.
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