Home Entertainment Generation 14plus Title ‘Elbow,’ From ‘Dil Leyla’ Director Aslı Ozarslan, Drills Down...

Generation 14plus Title ‘Elbow,’ From ‘Dil Leyla’ Director Aslı Ozarslan, Drills Down on Challenges Facing Young Immigrants 

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Aslı Özarslan’s “Elbogen” (“Elbow”), an adaptation of Fatma Aydemir’s award-winning novel of the same name, tells the story of Hazal (played by Melia Kara), a young woman in Berlin struggling to find a job and start a life of her own. After a violent incident on her 18th birthday, she flees to Istanbul, a strange city in a country she doesn’t know and where she is forced to survive.

Aslı Özarslan
Credit: Mariana Vassileva

Produced by Jamila Wenske‘s Berlin-based Achtung Panda!, the film premieres in the Berlinale’s Generation 14plus.

Özarslan’s past works include the 2016 documentary “Dil Leyla,” about a young Kurdish-German woman who is elected mayor of Cizre, a Turkish city on the border with Syria.

The Berlin native spoke with Variety about her new film and the challenges facing young people of immigrant backgrounds – something with which she is very familiar.

What interested you most about Fatma Aydemir’s novel?

It was clearly the character Hazal. She is neither a victim nor someone who does everything right. Her ambivalence, her rough edges and corners were very appealing to me, more than her environment. I saw in her a very smart girl who could analyze society with razor sharpness, but didn’t know what to do with it, except for the anger she felt, anger that she was not seen as a person.

It is a story that many people in Germany can relate to: growing up between cultures, not really belonging anywhere. Was this something you could identify with personally?

The point that you always have to prove yourself, especially at school. Some teachers have prejudices about young people with migration background and have little confidence in them.

There are studies that show that if you don’t have a German name you are rated worse at school or in training. It is harder to get a job or a flat. What is even sadder is that these people, who receive little support in their education, quickly lose their prospects.

The level of education in Germany is very dependent on the parental home. Society and schools must give young people, especially those from difficult financial backgrounds, the opportunity to dream and give them a chance. Otherwise they are pushed to the margins of society, even though they should form the core.

In what ways did your experience in documentary work inform the way you shot this film?

I wanted to immerse myself in the world of Hazal without prejudice and to show her view of the world without compromise. Like I did in my documentaries. There I learned to believe in the power of characters.

So we decided to stay visually close to her and not let the audience rest — that’s how Hazal feels, too. That is why it feels as if we are accompanying her in the most important steps as a young woman and from this the film develops its power.

There is a sense in the film that Hazal’s generation as a whole is dealing with serious problems, both in Germany and in Turkey …

Hazal’s generation is confronted with many different problems. The climate crisis, Europe’s treatment of migrants, new wars that are being sparked, which also have a lot to do with the people living here in Europe. There is the question of what kind of society you want to live in. Especially these days, when the young generation has many opportunities and freedom to express themselves, but at the same time they are threatened by backward and right-wing parties that want to determine which nationality or sexuality is right.

They are trying to find answers to all of this. Nevertheless, I feel that this generation is resilient and self-confident. They are emancipating themselves and trying to find their own way.

In Hazal’s case, it’s an unusual path; she twists her position of power in society. And we use that as a metaphor for our movie, as a ray of hope. This was important for me.

What made Melia Kara ideal for this role?

Melia is incredibly talented. I could feel the inner rage in her from the very first audition — an anger that the character Hazal absolutely needed. At the same time, there was also this vulnerability. She was able to intuitively translate what she personally brought with her and transferred it to the character. She wasn’t shy. I was very impressed by that. In the script and in the movie she is in every scene without exception.

How did you decide on the music, which includes an interesting mix of contemporary and Turkish songs?

The song by Kurdish artist Ahmet Kaya already played a role in the novel. It was incredibly important to me to include it, as he had to deal with massive racism in Turkey in his life and always stood up for himself.

The four best friends chose the song they dance to themselves. It’s “Von Party zu Party” by this brilliant female hip-hop duo, SXTN. When I asked the actresses what kind of music empowers them, they named this song. I love it!

The Turkish folk song I have known for years and it touches me a lot. I heard it again and again when I was developing ideas for the script. I wanted it to be in the film as a scene for Hazal so that she hears the song and to trigger something in her.

The score for the movie is by our great composer from France, Delphine Mantoulet. I sensed that she could relate to Hazal emotionally. We talked a lot about the instruments and Hazal’s inner life. It was inspiring to work with her.

What are you planning to work on next?

I definitely want to continue making feature films, as there are still many untold stories missing from a different perspective. There are two ideas I’m working on. Among other things, they deal with the question of what it is like to find a place in society as a woman.