My Father, The Turk is a deeply personal film about two families – one German, one Turkish, linked through one man, Cahit, a Turk. Attila Marcus Vetter, the German director who is also a participant, seeks answers from his Turkish father, Cahit, for the years of doubt he endured while growing up as the son of a German mother and an absent Turkish father. He travels to rural Turkey to find Cahit and meets his Turkish family who have also been saddened by Cahit’s frequent desertions.
The documentary follows Attila’s attempts to understand his father’s actions nearly forty years ago as a young immigrant in Germany. Using descriptions from his mother’s diaries, he confronts Cahit and tries to understand his father’s decisions and choices in life. The film is structured around interwoven testimonies of Attila’s Turkish family and the diary readings of Attila’s German mother, the former depicting the present, the latter revealing the past.
Attila exposes the turmoil that his Turkish family has been forced to undergo, something they have kept to themselves until now. In intimately captured sequences, Cahit is forced to confront his actions and respond to the grief he has caused. There is a lasting feeling that Cahit has absolved himself of all blame for abandoning his German girlfriend when she was eight months’ pregnant, carrying on affairs with other women while his wife raised his thus neglected daughters. As the film progresses, the larger truth of the imbalance of power between the sexes emerges: men may have extramarital affairs while offering the Koran as justification for stifling women. The film also hints at the burden of a migrant worker who is denied the pleasure of a fulfilling family life as he is forced to seek work away from his family for extended periods. Ironically so that the family can survive and stay together.
Stylistically, the film expertly combines film formats. Archival footage and photographs are used to construct the sequences in Germany, with audio of the diary readings and Super 8 used selectively to show Turkey through Attila’s eyes as a tourist. This format also gives a home-movie effect to family sequences as Attila meets his Turkish family. The camera is unobtrusive and lingers after characters speak, capturing nuances and subtle expressions that reveal much about their inner feelings. The film makes excellent use of music and succeeds in presenting the family with dignity. In spite of a poignant theme, the story ends on a hopeful note. Against a backdrop of social German-Turkish discord, the documentary offers optimism and the triumph of humanity over cultural differences.