Fatih Akin’s new epic drama, “The Cut” is the story of a man’s journey through the Ottoman Empire after surviving the 1915 Armenian genocide. Deported from his home in Mardin, Nazaret (Tahar Rahim) moves onwards as a forced laborer. He learns that his daughters may still be alive and his sense of hope is revived and he travels to America, via Cuba, to find them.
One night, the Turkish police round up all the Armenian men in the city, including the young blacksmith, Nazaret Manoogian, who becomes separated from his family. Years later, after managing to survive the horrors of the genocide, he hears that his twin daughters from whom he had been separated are still alive. He has a new determination to find them and sets off to track them down, his search taking him from the Mesopotamian deserts and Havana to the prairies of North Dakota. On this journey, he encounters very different people from angelic and kind-hearted characters to pure evil.
The story opens in 1915 in the then-thriving Armenian community of Mardin, Turkey. We learn that approaching war has awakened Turkish dreams of rejuvenating the weakened Ottoman Empire, and as a result of that nationalism those minorities who live within the Empire become immediate enemies. Rumors of war are heard, but blacksmith Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim), his beautiful, loving wife, and their adored twin daughters seem to be having great lives but the Armenian genocide come to them. In a film within the larger film we see victims as blameless innocents, those whose lives were serene and peaceful before the onslaught.
The bourgeois nationalist Young Turks, who had come to power in 1908, found themselves surrounded by the Allied powers after having suffered at the hands of Russia. They felt that the reason for their defeat had something to do with the predominantly Christian Armenian population within the Empire and so they set out on a program of mass murder and forced relocation of the Armenian people. As many as 1.5 million Armenians are believed to have perished.
Nazaret and his family worry that the violence of the war will finally reach them. They hear news of Allied forces arriving in Gallipoli. That night, their worst fears are realized. Turkish soldiers round up the men of Mardin and march them into the desert. Told that all men over the age of 15 have now been conscripted into the military, they are forced into slave labor and made to build roads. Many collapse and die. They witness large groups of women and children from the city of Kharput, in eastern Anatolia, marched away in front of them, part of the forced deportations carried out through death marches into Mesopotamia.
Nazaret and the other captive Armenians work until they are, one day, led away from their camp. Tied together and forced to kneel, all but Nazaret are executed. He is only spared because the soldier chosen to murder him hesitates and cannot bring himself to kill his prisoner. However, Nazaret is wounded in the neck and this prevents from speaking for the remainder of his life.
Taken for dead, Nazaret is able to escape his captors and begins a long journey to reunite with his twin daughters, believed to be the only remaining survivors of his family. His search takes him to Syria, Lebanon, Cuba and the United States. We watch him as a symbol of a lone hero floating from episode to episode within the genocide.
One disturbing sequence takes us to the death camps of Ras al-Ayn (on the Syrian-Turkish border today), where those who have not yet been killed are starving to death. Such moments are brutal and at times difficult to watch. Tahar Rahim is able to communicate a wide range of emotions though he does not speak during the second half of the film.
Some of the scenes bring out the horror of what was done to these people far more than the scenes of brutality and violence could alone. We feel the liveliness, the culture, the different attitudes and sensibilities of people as we watch and hope for the best knowing that it will do no good.
When Nazaret goes in search for his daughters, he knows that hardship will come. His story is sparked by the destruction of an empire, the forging of political alliances, and the branding of minorities as enemies as a result. Reuniting with his twin daughters is what keeps him going, whether wandering through a sea of endless sand in the remnants of the Ottoman regime, or traversing the hostile wilds of the United States.
Writer/director Akin gives us visual manifestations of pain, anger and defiance – once more justified by the narrative, yet still just as blatant in their statement. We see powerful pictures that track the Armenian genocide and its long-lasting repercussions, as personified through Nazaret’s story. There is sadness everywhere and we feel it as if it were happening to us. This is an empathetic story of survival that is difficult to watch but necessary to be seen.