Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
There’s a scene in “The Cut,” a stirring melodrama written and directed by Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin (“Head-On,” “The Edge of Heaven”) about survivor’s guilt and the century-old Armenian genocide, that cuts to the film’s bleeding heart. In this sequence, Armenian refugee Nazaret Manoogian (an incredible Tahar Rahim) answers for a crime he initially committed impulsively, but consequently used to advance his quest to reunite with teenage daughters Arsinée and Lucinée.
Nazaret is a mute, so his actions are represented and judged in this scene through facial expressions, and body language. And because “The Cut” is openly influenced by (and an homage to) the similarly pantomime-centric silent films of Charlie Chaplin, the scene in question concerns the desperate measures someone with a tenuous hold on society’s bottom-most rung will go to to correct the universe’s seemingly malignant indifference. I fixate on this scene because it’s one of the most morally challenging scenes I’ve seen at the movies this year, and one I’ll be thinking about for some time to come.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. To set the scene: Nazaret is a blacksmith who miraculously survives a genocidal march into the desert. In the first half of “The Cut,” we follow him as he struggles to rejoin with society as he knows it. Composer Alexander Hacke’s droning electric guitar score sets the pace for these scenes—a dull ache that imperceptibly builds in strength as time passes. Nazaret wanders the desert, encountering some emaciated Armenians, and some Turkish collaborators, bandits, and/or persecutors. It’s a forbidding journey, but he eventually discovers that his daughters are alive, and embarks on a years-long journey to rejoin them.
On his travels, Nazaret meets several sympathetic companions. He is also profoundly affected by Chaplin’s “The Kid,” a tragicomedy that also assumes that human suffering is a universal constant. The biggest difference between Chaplin and Akin’s respective films is obviously a matter of tone—Nazaret’s life is a series of jarring confrontations. Fellow refugees are habitually ostracized by Turks; they’re overworked, robbed, and sold into prostitution. Nazaret’s behavior is therefore presented through a nebulous, amoral lens. He scorns an affluent former patron (a Turk) when he’s temporarily allied with a group of Bedouin bandits. These bandits are indistinguishable from the ones that Nazaret sees earlier raping the mother of two sons. People are not good or bad in “The Cut”—they are subject to violent whims, and rarely given fair opportunities to defend themselves.