Family matters

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Director Yasemin Samdereli talks to EIFF about writing and directing with her sister Nesrin, strong women, and catching pigs

“Once you know where the person comes from, that they’ve been young, in love, and naughty – it changes your perspective. It was important to show the audience that these people have stories, are very eloquent, very funny and have their own philosophy.” This is why in Almanya - Welcome To Germany viewers will find, to their amusement, Turkish characters from the first wave of migration in the sixties speaking fluent German and the German characters gibberish. Or why grandparents Hüseyin and Fatma, as young lovers, censor their pre-marital indiscretions from grandson Cenk. The film’s anarchic attitude to storytelling – where fantasy trespasses reality to fuse past and present – has universal appeal but it speaks with a distinct comic voice.

Although Yasemin cites Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch and Chaplin as influences, many of the comic situations in the film are autobiographical and it is clear the Samdereli sisters’ sense of humour is a family trait: “I always felt it was a pity that my German girlfriends never got the same impression of my grandma as I do. For them, she was typical, a strong lady with a headscarf who spoke broken German, ‘more tea, more tea, more cookies.’ But for me she was a very complex, funny and strong lady.”

“The Christmas scene is actually almost the way we experienced it. We forced our mother to do Christmas even though she had no idea of the rituals. And also Hüseyin’s oldest son skipping school in Turkey, that was exactly what happened in our family: that’s why my grandfather decided, ‘that’s it, I’m taking you all to Germany with me.’”

The emotional impact of their grandfather’s death prompted the Samderelis to start writing the script nearly ten years ago: “we suddenly felt the urge to tell the story of this first generation. I could suddenly see that they’re dying out and there will soon be nobody to tell their stories. I felt so sad that people had forgotten about the beginnings.”

The film’s relevance in light of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s, negative comments about multiculturalism last October is coincidental but it is perhaps an appropriate riposte: “When we started to think about this movie a decade ago, what we wanted to tell was inside us, our personal perspective. It had nothing to do with politics, it just turned out that this year is the fiftieth anniversary of the guest-worker treaty. We planned it to be earlier but we just couldn’t get the money together. A lot of things developed in our favour but we didn’t know.”

In seeking to prevent the past from being forgotten, Samdereli’s memorable film wittily contrasts self-contained sketches with newsreel footage from untapped archives: “I had a very good researcher who contacted all the television companies but there was one clip I saw on the internet years ago which we couldn’t find: Turkish guys, whose first job was on a farm, catching pigs. I thought that was so funny, you have these Muslim people and their first job is – it’s hilarious that they just did it. Or the millionth guest worker being welcomed with music, you think ‘wow, they were really happy about having people come.’” A sentiment which is no doubt worth remembering. 

Almanya - Welcome to Germany has its final EIFF screening today, Saturday 25 June, at 1pm.

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