Ayse (Begüm Akkaya), just 19 years old, is getting married to a man she barely knows. Hasan (Murathan Muslu) doesn’t look too happy about it either, and has to be chided into dancing by his mother. After the ceremony, Ayse is taken away from her family and her Turkish village to live with her husband in Vienna and start a new life.
But kuma means second wife, and as Ayse settles down for her first night in Vienna, it’s her father-in-law that joins her as she pulls out the sofa bed.
When Ayse her asks her new husband why he agreed to marry her, his only answer is that his parents wanted him to.
Fatma (Nihal G. Koldas), the matriarch of the household, is sick with cancer, and is grooming Ayse to take her place when she dies, much to the chagrin of her other daughters, who feel shunned. Another death comes sooner, however, leaving the family in grief-stricken and angry disarray.
Director Umut Dag takes us behind the closed doors of the family and into its claustrophobic domesticity, where seemingly innocuous acts are heavily loaded: putting the shopping away or helping the younger children with their homework become power plays. In an effort to alienate Ayse, Fatma’s daughters speak German around her, knowing that she cannot understand them.
KUMA is a dramatic family saga, with displays of domestic violence (“I walked into a door!”), repressed homosexuality and an illicit affair. The tiny house can barely contain the high-running emotions, as traditional Turkish values jar with the more liberal, Western world that the unstable family are living in. This is integration on a very small scale, one person at a time, with Fatma at the centre; traditional customs from Ayse’s home country mix with the new possibilities that Western Europe can bring.
KUMA asks how much a person can sacrifice for their values and beliefs, and explores how destructive that sacrifice can be, even if it is made with the best intentions. Dag takes a familiar culture-clash story and deftly adds emotional complexity that makes it a riveting, affecting watch.