All Guts, No Glory: A Review Of Fratricide

Charlie Bass Sep 1, 2006

Fratricide is showing at the Film Forum through Sept. 5.

The last movie I walked out on was Roger Avary’s insipid Killing Zoe in 1994. I’ve seen hundreds of movies over the ensuing 12 years, including many I should have bailed on but didn’t in order to give my $10.75 the benefit of the doubt. When I do get the rare urge to walk out, I think to myself, well, I stayed through Armageddon, so in all fairness I can’t leave this film either.

So it’s rather odd that I’m feeling absolutely no guilt about walking out on Fratricide, a film about Kurdish and Turkish immigrants in Germany so hollow it insults both its subject and its audience. Focusing on teenage Azad and preteen Ibo, recent arrivals struggling to survive by turning a bar bathroom into a makeshift barbershop for other immigrants, the film is structured around groups of brothers (note the hammerhead subtlety of the title) who are consumed by violence and German hip-hop culture in equal measure. When Azad’s pimp brother kills a Turkish thug, senseless revenge drives the plot into all-too-familiar grooves that completely undermine anything new the film might have said.

There’s a good story to tell here about the shared frustrations, renewed tensions and moral quandaries of transplanted Turks and Kurds, but director Yilmaz Arslan (the Kurdish Todd Solondz) finds the most conventional and shallow way to tell it. The clichés pile up so fast it’s practically an immigrant film parody: dead parents, wise but exploited children, listless nonactors, the plaintive score, a corrupt new land, etc.

By my estimate, the film had about 15 minutes left when I escaped, but those were 15 minutes of my life I could not spare. My exit came on strike three: my first urge to leave occurred during an early sequence in which a Turkish thug’s exposed entrails were consumed by his pit bull, the second when one of the two young protagonists was raped by said thug’s brother. I finally walked when the pit bull enjoyed another helping of entrails. Don’t think I’m a prude: I appreciate gore when it’s used well, and if I never welcome seeing child rape, I do think such scenes can be effectively used to depict true human depravity. What’s offensive is that these scenes are intended to reflect the horrible experiences of immigrants in a morally bankrupt, exceedingly capitalistic modern Europe, but play with all the impact of a teen gross-out comedy. This combination of pretentiousness with gratuitousness is toxic and reflects the tonally insensitive approach of the whole film.

It’s simply not enough to be well meaning. There are lots of other films, some tackling similar issues, that could have landed this film’s distribution deal. Though highly doubtful, it’s possible that in the remaining 15 minutes, Fratricide turned itself around via a shatteringly powerful climax. I for one will never find out, and neither should you. Fratricide is showing at the Film Forum through Sept. 5.

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