Available in home video since February 2007, Yilmaz Arslan’s 2005 “Fratricide” is a unrelentingly grim and pessimistic study of feuding Kurd and Turkish youth in the streets of some unnamed German city. Despite an ostensibly political theme, it is much more about the need for absolution and intimacy in a heartless world. Its most obvious antecedents are the Brazilian film “Pixote” and Buñuel’s “Los Olvidados.” In all of these films, feral youth bind with each other in a largely futile effort to remain human.
In the opening scene of “Fratricide,” we find ourselves in the desolate and remote hillsides of Eastern Anatolia. A mailman has come to deliver a letter to Azad, a Kurdish teenager. His brother Semo, a pimp living in Germany, has sent him money to escape the desperate poverty that makes life impossible for an oppressed people. When the mailman asks where Azad may be found, an old woman tells him to drive until he sees a fig tree. Then he must take a right and look for the third yew tree. There Azad will be found.
When we see Azad again, he is living in a hostel for refugee youth. The counselors have brought in an eleven year Kurdish boy named Ibrahim (nicknamed Ibo) to share the room with him. In a flashback, we learn that Ibo’s parents have been killed by the Turkish army. The two youth, starved for family ties and homesick, bond to each other immediately. Azad, who scrapes out a living as a barber in the men’s room of a Kurdish-owned restaurant, makes Ibo his assistant–his job is to hold up a mirror.
Fate draws the two boys together with Ahmet and Zeki, a couple of unemployed Turkish brothers who are a bit older than Azad and into the by-now universal ‘gansta’ life-style popularized in American rap music. They spend their days working in their father’s grocery store and their evenings looking for trouble with their pit-bull in tow.
When Azad and Ibo are returning home from work on a subway train, they run into the Turkish brothers and their dog that begins to snarl and lunge at a frightened Ibo. When Azad asks them politely to restrain the dog, they tell him to fuck off. When the Kurdish youth get off the train at the next stop, Azad curses the Turks out through the window of the departing train.
Some days later, Azad and Ibo are on the street talking to Semo, Azad’s older brother, who is reprimanding him for treating him unfraternally, even after Azad has benefited from Semo’s money. We understand Azad’s reluctance to spend much time with his brother. He is an evil pimp who we have seen beating one of his whores into a bloody pulp after she has annoyed him. Without any redeeming qualities, Semo seems to be the counterpart of the Turkish brothers.
At that moment one of the two Turkish brothers, with the pit-bull in tow, happens on the three Kurds on the street and begins to advance on Azad. Without a moment’s hesitation, Semo takes out a knife and slashes him in the gut. As the three Kurds run off, the Turk falls on the street holding his guts in his hands. In keeping with the film’s impulse toward graphic violence, we see the pit bull begin to feed on his dying owner’s guts.
The remainder of the film consists of the surviving Turkish brother’s vendetta against the Kurds and their own blood feud against him. As the violence escalates, we feel no sense of the underlying political grievances of the Kurds–only a sense of futility. Indeed, as some of the Kurdish counselors at the hostel begin to try to politicize the feud, Azad lashes out at them. He is tired of the “cause” and only wants to live in peace.
The emotional core of the film is the relationship between Azad and Ibo, who are played respectively by a couple of nonprofessionals: Erdal Celik and Xevat Gectan. They remind us once again of the toll that civil war and globalized poverty have on the most innocent and vulnerable of its citizens. In the end, director Yilmaz Arslan has no salvation for such lost boys, only a sense of outrage that young people can live this way.
Arslan himself was born in Turkey, but came to Germany at an early age. He began working in theater at the outset but began making films in 1999. He dedicated “Fratricide” to the late Italian Marxist film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose first film “Accattone” focused on a pimp like Semo.
While “Fratricide” is a deeply pessimistic film, it is also an honest one. As one of its side benefits, it gives one the chance to hear native Kurds speaking their language. Since this is a people whose demands for language and other cultural rights are roiling the entire Middle East today, it is an opportunity to see through an open window into a reality that remains obscured for the most part.