“A REGULAR WOMAN”
An Honor Killing
Sherry Hormann’s “A Regular Woman” is based on a contentious, real-life “honor killing” in 2005 that shocked Germany. The murdered woman, a 23-year-old German of Turkish-Kurdish ancestry was shot point blank by her youngest brother and she narrates the action both before and after her death.
We geta glimpse of life for Hatun Aynur Sürücüa (Almila Bagriacik) , a free-spirited young woman living with an ultra-conservative Turkish Muslim family in Berlin. After escaping a forced marriage in Turkey with her abusive cousin, Hatun embraces a westernized lifestyle that provokes her family. After enduring endless harassment, she finally leaves the family and attempts to survive alone with her child, with whom she had escaped Turkey while pregnant. The threats and harassment continue, with German authorities willing to do nothing unless a physical act of harm takes place. The family decides to have Hatun’s youngest brother end the family’s “shame,” and thrust the horrific practice of honor killings into the national spotlight.
The film begins with a tracking shot that follows Aynur as she wanders down a busy Berlin street. The camera follows her lead as she points out various other women going about their business: crossing the road, shopping. Then there is a sudden jolt when Aynur nonchalantly indicates an alleyway strewn with police tape and flowers. There is a blown up black and white photograph of a recognizable girl. “This is where I was killed,” Aynur tells us.
We then see real life news footage, grainy press photography. Aynur rejected denomination and broke off from her arranged marriage to her cousin, and attempted, over her limited years, to make a life for herself and her young son. She attended school and forged links with other people. She was eventually killed by her youngest brother, who shot her three times in the head.
Although the subject is emotive, Aynur’s story never feels exploited. Instead it seems dedicated to giving Aynur the sort of voice she was denied in her twenty years of life. It is made quite clear that this is not all Muslims, and that the Sürüca family are extremist in their beliefs. The mosque which the brothers go to is sparsely attended. The film is aware of who the audience will be with Aynur aiming her voiceover squarely at white European hegemony: “you guys don’t understand our culture or language” she states before explaining what her faith entails.
The story is related through a series of time spanning vignettes in which we witness the casual horror of Aynur’s existence. On her wedding day her mother gifts her a razor, so her daughter can cut herself and fake hymenal blood in case she is not a virgin. Her brother sexually abuses her. Her sister is traitorous. These scenes are, however, expounded by the focus on Aynur as she tries to set herself up in a shelter, attempting to start a new relationship, and to provide safety for her son. Yet all the while, she is drawn back towards her family: “I know what you are thinking,” Aynur admits “is she so stupid?” Unfortunately, in real life, things are rarely so simple.
We see Aynur doing what most of us would take for granted (getting on with our one and only lives), but this is a necessity to the respectful tone of the film, which gives an authentic and detailed platform to the life and existence of this young woman. The fact that we have this film is its own happy ending. As Aynur says, we are “sitting here and listening.”
There are no surprises with the film being narrated by its dead heroine who is already a murder victim when the film begins. Director Hormann goes into unexplored territory with her stylistic choices and also by switching to a secondary protagonist after the first one is left dead on a Berlin sidewalk.
That is, she is left dead for a second time. Then the film rewinds to the moment when Aynur’s father withdrew her at age 16 from her Kreuzberg school and sent her to Turkey to marry a cousin. Aynur returns to Germany when she’s about to give birth to her child, fleeing her abusive husband and tries to live with her disapproving family, but soon turns to German social-service agencies for sanctuary. Once on her own, she makes non-Muslim friends, goes out dancing, removes her headscarf, and begins training as an electrician. She also becomes intimate with Tim (Jacob Matschenz), but his presence leads to harassing phone calls from Aynur’s brothers, who call her a “whore.”
The film is fast paced and engrossing. We see this tragedy could have been avoided if the cultures could better understand each other.