(photo credit: courtesy)
Directed by Su Turhan.
Written by Turhan,
Beatrice Dossi and Thomas Schlesinger
85 minutes Hebrew title: Ayla.
In German and Turkish.
Check with theaters for subtitle information.
An interesting slice-of-life movie about ethnic Turks in Germany, Su Turhan’s Ayla features a very appealing lead performance by Pegah Ferydoni. The film, Turhan’s first feature, however, is marred by abrupt shifts in tone and certain underdeveloped characters. But it sustains interest in the fate of its heroine as it reveals a side of life that few movies have looked at – the adult children of immigrants who have grown up in Europe but are not fully integrated into European society, due to a combination of their own personal choices and the prejudices of the mainstream.
Iranian-born Pegah Ferydoni plays Ayla, a young, free-spirited Turkish
woman who has grown up in Germany. She speaks fluent German, has a job
as a nursery-school teacher and works at a snack bar at a nightclub. For
her night job, she dresses up in a blonde wig, blue contact lenses,
miniskirts and thighhigh boots, an outfit her conservative father, with
whom she is no longer on speaking terms, finds appalling. Her less
rebellious sister, Huyla (Turkiz Talay), runs a successful bridal
dressmaking shop that is patronized by the local Turkish community.
Huyla is the family peacemaker, trying to convince Ayla to make amends
with her father, but Ayla is not interested. When, by chance, Ayla meets
Ayhan (Mehdi Moinzadeh), a Turkish-born photographer who has also grown
up in Germany, Huyla thinks there is a chance that Ayla will find her
place in the Turkish community. But Ayla, while she is immediately
attracted to Ayhan, has no intention of settling down or doing anything
to win her family’s approval.
Ayhan also struggles with balancing his family obligations and his
modern life. His sister, Hatice (Sesede Terziyan), wants to leave her
husband, who has returned to Turkey, for a man she loves.
Coincidentally, Hatice’s daughter, Elif (Mehtap Yurtseven), attends
Ayla’s nursery school, and Ayla notices that the girl seems downcast.
Ayhan’s father instructs Ayhan and his brother that they must avenge the
family’s lost honor – i.e., kill Hatice. Ayhan’s thuggish brother has
no problem with this request, but Ayhan feels caught between his respect
for his father and his love for his sister. Somewhat improbably, Ayla
is simultaneously carrying on a casual sexual affair with Ayhan and
hiding his sister and niece in her apartment. As much as Ayla and Ayhan
seem meant for each other, Ayla’s priorities are clear: Her first duty
is to protect Hatice, and she is appalled that Ayhan would even consider
While Pegah Ferydoni is incredibly lovely as the heroine, her character
is oddly conceived. She is a martial-arts expert who kicks butt whenever
she is challenged, and in some scenes she seems about to morph into a
Tarantino heroine. Her relaxed sexuality seems hard to explain. She
jumps into bed with Ayhan as casually as a character in a shallow
American romantic comedy might. I’m not saying no Turkish woman in
Germany would do this, only that it seems jarring, as does her elaborate
disco queen get-up for her job at the snack bar.
In spite of his failure to act heroically from the get-go, Ayhan remains
a sympathetic, if confused, figure. However, something about his
tolerance of Ayla’s unconventional ways seems to defy explanation. While
it is refreshing to see a movie that does not telegraph every detail of
its characters’ lives, some more explanation of Ayla and Ayhan’s
motivations would have helped give the film a clearer focus, which would
have added to its intensity.
At times, as I watched Ayla exercise to music or mug shamelessly for her
nursery-school charges, all of whom adore her, I was reminded of
Flashdance. Ostensibly, no two movies could be more different but, like
Flashdance, this film focuses on its adorably unconventional heroine,
whom everyone seems to worship, who works out frequently and who wears
skimpy, flattering costumes. Just the fact that the comparison occurred
to me emphasizes the uneven tone that characterizes this film. It would
have had more impact if the director had decided whether he wanted it to
be a light-hearted comedy about two assimilated Turks in Germany
falling in love or a turbulent story of modern young people fighting
destructive prejudices. It’s still engrossing, but it could have been