Mark Reviews Movies

A Regular Woman

A REGULAR WOMAN

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Sherry Hormann

Cast: Almila Bagriacik, Rauand Taleb, Aram Arami, Meral Perin, Mehmet Ateşçi, Mürtüz Yolcu, Merve Aksoy, Armin Wahedi, Jacob Matschenz, Lara Aylin Winkler, Lina Wendel

MPAA Rating: Not rated

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 6/26/20 (virtual cinema)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 25, 2020

On February 7, 2005, Hatun Sürücü, who was known by her nickname Aynur (a name meaning "moonlight," by combining a Turkish word and an Arabic one), was murdered by her youngest brother. She was shot three times on a street near a bus stop in Berlin, after the brother accompanied her there, following the woman's visit to the family home. By that point, Sürücü, only 23 when she was murdered, had her own life, disapproved of by most of her family members, save for one or maybe two. This wasn't the first so-called "honor killing" to happen in Germany, but it was the crime that brought attention to this horrific "custom."

Director Sherry Hormann's A Regular Woman begins with this information, which we learn after a voice explains that what happened to Sürücü could have happened to any of the women who briefly appear during the film's prologue, walking down the streets of Berlin in the midst of their ordinary lives. These anonymous women, like Sürücü, are Muslim, and in the hard-line, fundamentalist warping of the religion of Islam, the act of walking down the street, uncovered as some of them are, or living ordinary lives might be enough of a justification under certain laws to murder them.

The film's original German title translates to "Just a woman," and perhaps that's how we see these anonymous figures. That's just a woman, so why is her existence so threatening, so offensive, or so unworthy in the minds of some? We could also see it as the thinking of someone like Sürücü's brother: She's just a woman, so why does her existence matter?

This troubling and devastating film looks at that second way of thinking from the perspective of the first. Hormann combines the narrative of an intimate and dramatized biography, which follows Sürücü from her wedding at the age of 16 to her murder, with the investigative and informative goals of a documentary. The two diverge, such as when our narrator reads on-screen text relating the six stipulations that could "justify" a family member killing one of their own, and merge, such as when we photographs or home videos of the real Sürücü when the dramatized version of her story reaches that final moment of her life.

The result is often unnerving. We have an almost omniscient narrator, explaining exactly what is going to happen and why it will happen, and then, we watch, with equal parts sympathy and dread for the main character, as the past of the biography gradually reaches the inevitable, horrifying fact of how that life ended.

As for that narrator, the voice belongs to the film's version of Sürücü, who is called Aynur throughout and is played by Almila Bagriacik, in a performance that lives in each and every moment of the character's life, instead of foreshadowing the tragedy of her death. That's vital to the film's success: We have to feel that life, its promise, and the constant, in-the-moment conflict between wanting to be free and not wanting to dismiss a family that has so easily dismissed her.

When she's 16, Aynur's father Rohat (Mürtüz Yolcu) arranges her marriage to a cousin living in the family's homeland of Turkey. This is the culture into which she has been raised—one in which the "ownership" of a girl or woman is passed from the father to her husband. It's that thinking—that a woman exists to be owned by a man—that will make her brothers' feel entitled to take Aynur's life when she goes against their wishes.

A year later, Aynur returns to Berlin with her baby son Can. Her husband had been physically abusive, and despite the protests of Aynur's mother Deniya (Meral Perin) and most of her brothers, Rohat agrees to let her stay. She is treated as a pariah in her own home, though, even by younger sister Shirin (Merve Aksoy). One brother sexually abuses Aynur (Rohat banishes him from the house). She's constrained to living in a closet.

Eventually, she decides to leave home and to seek out her own life. With the help of social programs, she returns to school, obtains work, has a place to call home, and is able to raise her son. Rumors—real, exaggerated, and manufactured—begin to reach Aynur's family. The talk of disowning her for bringing "shame" to the family becomes harassing phone calls. Those become threats (ignored by the police) and, finally, discussions about how the family can regain their lost "honor."

In the process of detailing Aynur's trials (trying to balance the many facets of her life and still wanting to be a part of her family) and successes (discovering that she wants to be become an electrician and working toward that goal, as well as having a social life with friends and romantic relationships, including one with a guy, played by Jacob Matschenz, who treats her and her son with love and respect), Florian Oeller's screenplay also dissects that escalation within the family with as much as detail as possible, given the actual facts of the case at hand. Aynur's narration, provided from beyond the grave, speculates that the brothers, already practicing a stricter version of Islam, sought or found a religious justification for restoring the family honor in a local mosque, where the imam is portrayed as adhering to German law but strongly hinting at the ways things would be under a set of religious laws.

There's a delicate balance here, which Oeller and Hormann make sure to maintain. They aren't condemning or pointing fingers at a religion (There are too many Muslim characters here who do not have the family's specific beliefs to accuse the film of that). They are, by way of the resulting trial and reasonable deduction, presenting a logical case for the motives of a seemingly illogical crime. By the end, we comprehend the supposed rationale, which makes it even more terrifying.

For all of this, the film, though, belongs to Aynur. It's her life that matters. It's her voice that we hear. It's the loss of these that we feel the most, from the start of A Regular Woman until its tragic end.

Note: Corinth Films is making A Regular Woman available via virtual cinema. You can choose to support a local independent theater with your rental purchase. For more information and to access the film, click here. Participating theaters are listed on the page.

Copyright © 2020 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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