Sibel Kekilli flees an abusive marriage in stunning When We Leave.
WHEN WE LEAVE (Feo Aladag). 119 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 18) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNN
Anyone can make a movie about a woman suffering under the restrictions of a fundamentalist mentality; the trick is making one that doesn't fall back on stereotypes and simplistic finger-wagging.
In her directorial debut, When We Leave, the German actor Feo Aladag neatly avoids those traps and comes up with a tense drama about people, rather than character sketches. The movie's universe of cloistered women and controlling men living within today's Germany feels distressingly credible.
The terrific Sibel Kekilli (Head-On) stars as Umay, a German-born Muslim who abandons her abusive husband in Turkey and takes their son (Nizam Schiller) back home to her family - only to find they think she's dishonoured them by fleeing her marriage and aren't interested in hearing her side of things.
Depicting Umay's oppressive surroundings in long, largely silent sequences, Aladag creates a suffocating atmosphere that gives the story's grim trajectory - signalled in the very first scene - a terrible inevitability.
When We Leave uses dread powerfully, letting us watch impotently alongside Umay as her relatives fall into a feedback loop of indignant self-justification.
Manipulative? Absolutely. But awfully effective.