May 2, 2019
by Carla Hay
Directed by Sherry Hormann
German and Turkish with subtitles
World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.
So-called “honor killings” are part of an extremely conservative Muslim culture that teaches that it’s acceptable to murder a family member who brings shame upon the family. This type of killing is usually committed by a male against a female, and it usually has to do with the female’s sexuality. The German film “A Regular Woman” is the dramatic, scripted version of the real-life “honor killing” of 23-year-old Hatun “Aynur” Sürücü, a Turkish-Kurdish woman who was murdered by one of her brothers in 2005 in Berlin.
In the movie, she’s played by Almila Bagriacik as a woman who’s truly a victim of her circumstances. At 16, Aynur was forced into a marriage to a cousin who physically and emotionally abused her. She has a son named Can with her husband, but when Aynur can no longer take the abuse, she leaves her husband and flees with Can to Germany, where they start a new life.
It’s revealed in the beginning of the film that Aynur is a murder victim. The crime scene is shown with her dead body covered, and Aynur (who’s supposed to be speaking as a dead person in another dimension) narrates the film in voiceovers and tells the audience that one of her brothers murdered her. The rest of the movie is a series of flashbacks showing the events leading up to the murder and its aftermath.
Even though Aynur begins her new life in Berlin, she can’t really escape from her large, meddling family. Three of her brothers—Nuri (played by Rauand Taleb), Tarik (played by Aram Arami) and Sinan (played by Mehmet Atesci)—are especially offended that Aynur has rejected a traditional life as a subservient Muslim wife, and they keep tabs on what she’s been doing in Berlin. When the brothers see that Aynur has stopped wearing a hijab and has begun wearing Western clothes such as jeans and T-shirts, they feel scandalized. Youngest brother Nuri is the one who is the angriest with Aynur, especially when she begins dating a German man named Tim (played by Jacob Matschenz). Aynur and Tim end up living together, and it isn’t long before Aynur’s brothers start harassing him.
Aynur has a slightly better relationship with her brother Aram (played by Armin Wahedi Yeganeh), whom she trusts the most, and sister Shirin (played by Merve Askoy), but all of her siblings are still influenced by their extreme religious beliefs, and they have varying levels of disapproval of Aynur’s new lifestyle. Aynur has a love/hate relationship with her family. Although she knows that they think she’s an immoral harlot, she can’t quite cut herself off from them. A part of her knows they will never approve of her new life, but a part of her is in denial and thinks that they might eventually accept it.
Meanwhile, Aynur has jumped from one male-dominated environment into another. She enrolls in school to become an electrician, and she’s the only female in her class. She eventually decides to move from Berlin to Freiburg, shortly after she turns 23. Because “A Regular Woman” reveals in the beginning of the film that Aynur is going to be murdered by one of her brothers, the movie sacrifices a lot of suspense that could have been experienced by people who don’t know what happened in real life. (Her murder was big news in Germany, but not well-known in many other countries.) Therefore, the first and second acts of the film are basically a countdown to the heinous crime.
What the movie doesn’t reveal until the third act is what happened to the murderer, who else knew about the crime before it happened, and who ended up being punished for it. “A Regular Woman” director Sherry Hormann does a capable job of telling Aynur’s story, while actress Bagriacik does a believable and sympathetic portrayal of a young woman trying to find her identity in the midst of this family turmoil.
This movie is not a judgment against the Muslim religion but an unflinching critique of anyone who devalues women’s lives or treats women as always inferior to men. Unfortunately, there are so many movies and TV shows being made about women who are murdered, that “A Regular Woman” might get lost in this over-saturation. What’s even more tragic is that these stories are all too often based on what happened in real life.
UPDATE: Corinth Films will release “A Regular Woman” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on June 26, 2020.