Asli and Saeed are both medical students. She is doing some sort of anatomy course and seems to be top of the class, although her Turkish mother doesn’t think its a ladylike profession. He fled Lebanon at the end of the Civil War in 1990. He was 15, which would put the start of the film somewhere in the mid-1990s. Adil is studying dentistry but would rather be learning to be a pilot, but he’s a little more prone than Asli to do what his mother wants him to do.
Asli and Saeed meet at a spin-the-bottle student party, shortly after their paths briefly cross at a funfair, where Saeed leaves the ride that Asli is enjoying with a friend. They quickly fall in love and start frolicking in the nearby sea – but only after he puts his boxer shorts back on. It seems that Asli has inherited some of her mother’s conservatism after all.
They keep their relationship hidden from Asli’s mother, until she comes for a visit and Saeed confronts her. Unfortunately, she’s a little bit racist and there’s no way she could contemplate her beloved daughter having anything to do with an Arab. So, when they do get married in his Mosque, they don’t let her know about it.
Saeed goes to the mosque for the social aspect and isn’t particular devout, though this is changing. It’s not long before he’s confronting his friends about borrowing money from a bank or selling alcohol from a restaurant. Incidentally, these are both also taboos from strict Methodists, but it’s only when Muslims bring it up, that such opinions are portrayed as a sign of dangerous fanaticism.
Saeed goes missing, apparently in Yemen. He’s supposed to meet up with Asli in Beirut, where she’s due to meet his family, but he’s a no show. Some time later, when Asli is back in Germany, he turns up on her doorstep looking very much the worse for wear. For neither the first nor the last time, she is conflicted between taking him back and telling him to just piss off.
All this is leading to a Big Dramatic Ending which, unusually for me, I cottoned onto very early on. This was mainly because of a couple of chance remarks and a couple of details of place and profession, so I don’t think this was anything to do with director Anne Zohre Berrached being too bloody obvious. It may be at least in part down to the limited number of plot lines afforded to Muslim characters in film.
Shall we start with the positives? It is great that the lead character, through whom most of the story is filtered is a German-Turkish woman and not the white blonde who you’d expect. And there is a certain internationalism in a film which flits between Rostock, Beirut, Hamburg and Miama and contains significant scenes in German, English, Arabic and Turkish.
And yet could we please, some time, have a film in which a Muslim character (a) has significant screentime and (b) is neither a radicalising Islamist not a victim of an honour killing? I’m not blaming Berrached for this – she should be able to make the film she wants to – but I can imagine all the producers and film commissioners who are unable to envisage Muslims in any other role.
To be fair, pretty much all of Saeed’s friends and family cannot comprehend his radicalism, nor does Asli, even when she is standing by the man she continues to love. Yet this results in othering Saeed even more. It is as if a film about Islamists is only possible, if there is no attempt made to understand or even conceive why someone would have such ideas. Asli’s support for her husband is driven by unquestioning love alone.
This in no sense makes Die Welt wird eine andere sein a bad film. It takes an interesting premise which has rarely been considered by film or other forms of art. And yet a film is released within a certain social context, and this one is coming out in a time of rising poisonous hatred of Muslims. It’s not that this film shouldn’t have been made – far from it – but please can we have some other on-screen depictions as well? This would not just be politically better, it would be an artistic improvement as well.