Es gilt das gesprochene Wort / I Was, I Am, I Will Be

A drab government building. Four people stand in a characterless room – a government official, a bride, a groom and the groom’s interpreter. The official utters the title line “Es gilt das gesprochene Wort” (the spoken word applies -apparently part of the German civil marriage ceremony) and invites the bride and groom to kiss. Neither of them looks particularly excited at the prospect.

Flashback to Marmaris, a Turkish holiday resort. Baran, a 23-year old Kurd who has just finished his military service, works in kitchens and sleeps with tourists for money. He is desperate to get out, idly asking his European bedmates if they’ll take him back with them.

Marion is a pilot who has just been diagnosed with cancer. She is 20 years older than Baran and waiting to hear whether she’ll ever be allowed to fly again. She’s having an affair with a creepy married musician who whisks her off on holiday. They last a day in Marmaris before she throws him out on his ear, telling him to take his stupid bag on wheels with him.

Marion is at first immune to Baran’s charms, but she feels a bit sorry for him and buys him a shirt. Just before she leaves, she’s moved by his situation enough to leave him a number with which he can fly to Germany and take part in the opening scene.

She helps him find a job at the airport and lends him the money for driving lessons. There are two rules though – after 3 years he will gain his own passport, after which they are not to see each other again. And he is not to mix his shit with her shit.

Following the opening scene at the bland wedding ceremony, the film is divided into 3 Acts, as intimated by the English title. Towards the end of the second Act, when Baran and Marion start to find that the rules were harder to follow than they expected and start to mix their shit, I was seriously worrying that despite the early promise, it would lose itself in Happy Ever After blandness. But then it takes an unexpected and welcome turn.

Baran and Marion approach each other romantically, but the film never forgets that they have come together under almost impossible circumstances. Marion’s offer of marriage may well have been motivated by unadulterated humanitarianism (and its great that the film never questions the idea of “illegally” marrying someone simply because it would make their life better), but how much is this the act of a White Saviour, liberating those who are unable to liberate themselves?

Similarly however much Marion feels sorry for Baran’s situation, she is literally unable to empathize with some of his experiences of everyday racism (of which the film shows a few). Equally, Baran sometimes seems to have a macho need to be in charge and is often uncomfortable in a relationship which is so obviously unequal.

And lurking in the background, but never explicitly discussed, is Marion’s reaction to her cancer diagnosis – especially after we learn that her mother also died of cancer, leading directly to her father’s suicide. Marion’s unwillingness to come closer to Baran comes not just from differences in age and culture, but because it is easier for her to deal with relationships as transactions which do not require you to expose any deep emotions.

Its great to see a film with a lead character who is female and above the acceptable age for (female) leads (though mid-40s would probably still put her in the lower half of the population). And that the lesbian relationship of two other characters is shown without any need to make a fuss about it. Migrants are also treated as real people, which is to say that they are often not very nice and unsympathetic, but they are never cartoon villains.

The ending is ambiguous, but all the better for that. Life goes on, and it can be often shitty. But its usually better than the alternative.

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