Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Farewell to a False Paradise (Abschied vom falschen Paradies)

Tevfik Baser (1989)


Genre: Drama

Set in a prison in Hamburg in the mid-1980s, the film depicts the gradual transformation of Elif, the widow of a Turkish guest worker in Germany who has been sentenced to six years in jail for killing her husband. While initially Elif experiences the prison as a claustrophobic, dark space of isolation and punishment her pereception soon changes. The female solidarity she encounters  sharply constrasts with the patriarchal restrictions of the Muslim-Turkish domestic life from which she tried to escape by killing her husband. Consistent with Elif's point of view the prison becomes some kind of paradise, a sanctuary in which Elif is able to develop a new sense of female identity. During the years of imprisonment she learns the German language, sheds her long hair and traditional headscarf and gradually assumes the image of a young Westernised woman dressed in jeans and trainers. The film's conclusion, however, is less optimistic: when Elif's sentence is reduced on account of her good behaviour and she is about to be released, she tries to commit suicide since she is scared of the kind of life that awaits her outside the idyllic sanctuary of prison. She will be sent back to Turkey, where she is likely to face another trial for the murder of her husband or she may become the victim of her brother-in-law's revenge and be killed. 

Elif's trajectory from a suppressed Turkish-Muslim woman to an emancipated Westernised woman is problematic for a number of reasons: firstly, it promotes assimilation to Western values as the only successful form of intergation and liberation; secondly, the depiction of the prison where 'cells are havens of domesticity [...] and where, amongst the inmates, there is no hierarchy, no brutality and, crucially in this context, virtually no racism' (Rob Burns, 2006) is unrealistically idyllic; and thirdly, the binary opposition between a harmonious matriachal community and patriachal oppression is somewhat forced and exaggerated.

Farewell to a False Paradise is an illustrative example of what has been called the 'cinema of the affected', a cinema that adopts documentary realist aesthetics, addresses social problems and proposes solutions.



Posted by Daniela Berghahn on 19 Apr 2006 •





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