Your Beauty Is Worth Nothing: Karlovy Vary Film Review

Beautiful coming-of-age story unfolds without a single cliché.

Huseyin Tabak's first feature is told from a 12-year-old Turkish boy's perspective as he and his family deal with the challenges of immigration in Austria.

Karlovy Vary—In the last few years, several memorable foreign films have reminded us that immigration is a volatile subject all over the world. Most European countries are wrestling with the issue, and this is reflected in a rich variety of films. Very few of them can match Your Beauty Is Worth Nothing, a new Austrian film from first-time director Huseyin Tabak, which had its world premiere this week in Karlovy Vary. This poetic feature told from a child’s perspective is so elegant and moving that it deserves to find a venturesome American distributor committed to showcasing new talent. Audience response will be potent wherever the film plays.

The main character, 12-year-old Veysel (Abdulkadir Tuncer), named after beloved Turkish poet Asik Veysel, has been living for six months in Vienna with his family. His father is a Kurd who left home to fight with guerrillas against the Turkish government, while his mother is Turkish. Veysel’s older brother Mazlum (Yusa Durak), who still resents his father for having abandoned the family, has left home and joined a violent street gang in Vienna. The threat of deportation always hangs over the family’s heads, which adds to the tension at home. At school Veysel is ignored by his teachers because he speaks very little German. He is infatuated with a classmate, Ana (Milica Paucic), a Yugoslavian immigrant, and he solicits some romantic counsel from a macho neighbor (the magnetic Orhan Yildirim) whose gruff manner hides a kind heart. 

Veysel’s subjective point of view is beautifully sustained throughout the film; wistful dream sequences blend imperceptibly into the boy’s real life. Some of the family conflicts are almost unbearably painful, but there is also considerable humor in Veysel’s interactions with his impatient, worldly wise neighbor. Matters come to a crisis when Mazlum is arrested for drug dealing, but in a way this crisis brings the rest of the family members closer together, and Veysel also forges a tentative connection with Ana. The film’s title comes from a poem by Asik Veysel that the young hero is struggling to translate into German so that Ana and his classmates at school can understand the words that mesmerize him.

Tabak has an intuitive sense of just how much fantasy to include, and he achieves the most devastating emotion without ever allowing the film to tip over into sentimentality.  oung Tuncer has a face that the camera loves, but all of the performances are perfectly modulated. Some of the Austrian characters verge on one-dimensional crassness, but Veysel and his family do find a few compassionate supporters. A scene in which Veysel visits his brother in prison, and another in which his uncommunicative father (the superb Nazmi Kirik) finally opens up, will leave most audiences choking back tears. There’s an unexpected twist at the end that seems exactly right. In fact, it’s hard to find any significant flaw in this movie. Cinematography and music contribute to the haunting mood. This may be the role of a lifetime for young Tuncer, but we can certainly look forward to more marvelous work from Tabak, a director who seems to have a world of possibilities before him.

Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Production: Dor Film
Cast: Abdulkadir Tuncer, Nazmi Kirik, Lale Yavas, Yusa Durak, Milica Paucic, Orhan Yildrim
Director-screenwriter: Huseyin Tabak
Producers: Danny Krausz, Kurt Stocker, Milan Dor, Huseyin Tabak
Director of photography:  Lukas Gnaiger
Production designers: Julia Oberndorfinger, Attila Plangger, Stefanie Hinterauer
Music: Judit Varga
Costume designer: Christine Brunner
Editor: Christoph Loidl
No rating, 85 minutes.