A breezy, colorfully styled comedy suitable for family viewing, “Almanya” centers on multiple generations of a German-Turkish clan and marks the feature debut of German helmer Yasemin Samdereli, who, along with younger sister/co-scribe Nesrin, wrote episodes of the popular Teuton soap “Turkish for Beginners.” Deriving its broad humor from cultural misunderstandings and the question of what constitutes national identity, pic boasts artful moments but no pretensions to high art, hence its out-of-competition Berlinale placement. Opening in Deutschland theaters in March, it should also score in Turkey, as well as other European countries with Turkish expats.
The narrative is neatly structured into two interwoven time frames that come together in a poignant visual toward the pic’s end. Both strands feature action in Turkey and Germany.
The first, set in the present, introduces the Yilmazes in their German home, as patriarch Huseyin (Vedat Erincin) insists that his family — his wife (Lilay Huser); their adult children Veli (Aykut Kayacik), Muhamed (Ercan Karacayli), Leyla (Siir Eloglu) and Ali (Denis Moschitto); and their grandchildren, 22-year-old Canan (Aylin Tezel) and 6-year-old Cenk (Rafael Koussouris) — accompany him for a holiday in Turkey. Meanwhile, Cenk, the son of Ali and beautiful blonde German Gabi (Petra Schmidt-Schaller), is suddenly faced at school with the question: Am I German or Turkish?
The second strand follows young Huseyin (Fahri Yardim) in distant Anatolia, his arrival in 1964 Germany as the 1,000,001st Gastarbeiter (guest worker), and his family’s gradual acclimatization — if not assimilation — as visualized in Cenk’s vivid imagination.
Later, the clan’s trip to Anatolia brings the plot (and the cycle of life) full circle. It also serves as an opportunity for Huseyin to dispense folksy wisdom about the importance of family bonds, and of loving and respecting one another.
While the humor may be hit-or-miss (some bits, such as Huseyin’s dream about the bureaucracy at the German citizenship office — and the requirement of eating pork — are laugh-out-loud funny), all of it is gentle, poking fun at national cliches rather than personal characteristics. Directing with a broad, sitcom-style vigor, Samdereli keeps the pace moving briskly enough that if one joke fails to tickle a viewer’s funny bone, the film is soon on to the next.
On a more serious note, the pic’s standout aspect is the way it encompasses the history of guest workers in Germany, particularly the incorporation of well-chosen black-and-white archive footage under the beginning and end credits. Indeed, the workers’ experience may be pithily summed up by a speech made on Huseyin’s behalf during “Germany Says Thank You” Day at the German Ministry: “It was sometimes bad, sometimes good, but now I am happy.”
Thesping is geared toward a bright, cheerful tenor that works within the pic’s parameters, while the well-crafted tech package has a genuine theatrical feel.