'A Regular Woman': Film Review

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
Effective, if oppressively somber.

The true-life honor killing of Hatun "Aynur" Surucu is the basis for this rigorous-to-a-fault drama.

No great movie, even if dealing with bleak subject matter, is depressing. It's an ineffable quality — a grim story (Robert Bresson's L'Argent, Claire Denis's Bastards and Steven Spielberg's Munich come immediately to this writer's mind) that leaves a viewer oddly elated. For all its scrupulousness of performance, aesthetic and intent, director Sherry Hormann and screenwriter Florian Oeller's Tribeca Film Festival world premiere, A Regular Woman, is not such a movie.

Based on an actual incident, the film dramatizes the short life and violent death of Hatun "Aynur" Sürücü (Almila Bagriacik), a Turkish woman whose devout Muslim family emigrated to Berlin and soon after married off 16-year-old Aynur to an abusive cousin. After escaping from her husband, a very pregnant Aynur returned home to live in divorced disgrace, until she made a choice to reject the very male-centered faith in which she was raised.

She and her newborn moved into their own home, and for the next several years Aynur studied to be an electrician as well as, much to her family's chagrin, partaking in Berlin's very liberated social scene. The seething embarrassment that the Sürücüs suffered reached full boil in February 2005, when Aynur's youngest brother, played here by Aram Arami, murdered her outside her apartment. It soon emerged that this was an honor killing meant to help the family save face with their community. 

Aynur's death is a given from frame one, as she narrates the film from beyond the grave. This bit of dramatic license is often effective since Bagriacik's clinical tone gives each scene the feel of reportage. In a few instances, Hormann even uses video of the real Aynur (hanging out with her German boyfriend, as an example), so as to further futz with the fictionalization. It's as if Aynur is a journalist researching her own life, dispassionately presenting the consequences (and not just within her own family) of being a person who dared to think and live for herself.

A Regular Woman is a meticulous dramatic reenactment designed specifically to give a victim back their voice — quite the honorable intention. The cast is excellent, with Bagriacik never going for easy pity or facile martyrdom. And the actors playing Aynur's family (Meral Perin chief among them as the heinous, self-righteous matriarch) eschew any cartoonishly hissable behavior. This is a brood whose evil is rooted in very mortal, if in no way moral, principle.

So what is it that's missing? Something beyond a rigid sense of inevitability, for one. There's nothing wrong with the film's anti-dramatic aura, but there's a shakiness in how Hormann utilizes the fact that Aynur's murder is a foregone conclusion. It's as if the director is delaying gut-wrenching emotion as opposed to letting it emerge organically from the stylistic severity. Nowhere is this more evident than in a final scene that presumes to have unequivocal access to the protagonist's dying thoughts. No spoilers beyond noting that it's a sentimental gesture which plays insultingly hokey, a way to coddle viewers rather than leave them reeling in the face of a harsh yet ecstatic truth.

Cast: Almila Bagriacik, Rauand Taleb, Aram Arami, Meral Perin, Mehmet Ateşçi, Mürtüz Yolcu, Merve Aksoy, Armin Wahedi
Director: Sherry Hormann
Producer: Sandra Maischberger
Screenwriter: Florian Oeller
Cinematographer: Judith Kaufmann
Editor: Bettina Böhler
Production designer: Uli Friedrich
Costume designer: Jessica Specker
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (International Narrative Competition)
Sales: Michael Weber (The Match Factory)

92 minutes