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Feel-good German film says multiculturalism not dead

posted 12 Feb 2011, 16:47 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 12 Feb 2011, 16:50 ]

German-Turkish comedy 'Almanya' cast an ironic view on stereotypes of integration in Germany.

"Almanya", a rare feel-good movie about Turkish immigrants in Germany which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday, defies recent political declarations that multiculturalism has failed in Europe.

Coming amid an anguished public debate about the place of foreigners in Germany, the debut movie by two Turkish-German sisters delighted filmgoers with its comic and optimistic depiction of immigrants' efforts to integrate in an alien society.

"This a great platform for us. We are so happy to be able to get so much press and awareness," director Yasemin Samdereli, who wrote the screenplay together with her sister Nesrin Samdereli, said at the premiere. Encounters between Germans and Turks can often be quite comic, she added.

Actress Aylin Tezel, playing the grand-daughter of a Turkish immigrant and thus representing the third generation of Turks living in Germany, said: "The film is just so affectionate, he has that special perspective on the issue without trying to solve the whole problem. It is just close to the people and close to reality."

Turkish-German films such as Fatih Akin's "Head On" -- the first German film in 18 years to win the top prize at the Berlin festival -- have won much critical acclaim in recent years, yet have mostly focused on social troubles in immigrant communities. "Almanya" humorously narrates the story of a family of Turkish origin that moved to Germany to find better-paid work in the 1960s and now bridges two cultures.

The premiere also attracted German President Christian Wulff and his wife Bettina, who joined the cast at the red carpet. "This film shows how important language is for integration, not only here in Germany, but also back in Turkey for this family when they visit their old country later, when the younger just don't understand their ancestors' language any more", Wulff told Reuters. "One should just develop understanding for each other, that is what counts for me", he added. "This film will contribute to a better understanding, I think, to better understand the other one, the stranger."

Turning the classic perspective of immigrants as the Others on its head, "Almanya" shows how shocked the family is to arrive in a country populated by blond giants who devour pigs, worship a suffering figure on a cross and speak "gibberish".

German chancellor Angela Merkel last year declared that multiculturalism had failed in Germany and newcomers needed to better integrate, a sentiment French and British leaders Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron echoed this month. "Almanya", which will be released in Germany in both Turkish and German, pokes fun at the need to assimilate. In one scene, when a "Gastarbeiter" (guest worker) seeks to obtain German nationality, a bureaucrat insists he commits to devouring pork, holidaying in Majorca and sporting a Hitler-esque moustache.

The Samdereli sisters said they incorporated many autobiographical experiences into the film, such as forcing their mother to stage Christmas for them. The film ends on an optimistic note, with Merkel holding a ceremony for the Turkish guest workers to acknowledge their contribution to the German economic miracle. A third-generation Turkish-German boy holds a speech in perfect German.

The 61st Berlin film festival runs to Feb. 20 this year, culminating with the awards ceremony taking place on Feb. 19. "Almanya" is screening in the main film line-up but is not in the running for awards.