The Sun Also Scheisse: Ayub Explores Identity Politics in Modern European Diaspora
For her directorial debut, Sonne, director Kurdwin Ayub draws on her background as a video and performance artist to cull a contemporary coming-of-age drama centered on the life of a young Kurdish woman living in the cultural hub of Vienna. Old World meets New World in this Gen Z primed exercise featuring partial autobiographical elements of Ayub herself, whose family fled Iraq during the Gulf War, ending up as refugees in Austria. However, assimilation is never a stable certainty for first generation children whose parents are at odds with the cultural beliefs of a host culture, especially one evolving swiftly through the splintering intersectionalities of social media. Although online controversy becomes the familiar catalyst pushing its lead character towards an epiphany, Ayub focuses on the intimacy of alienation in stark contrast to the usual formula administered in coming of age dramas.
In modern day Vienna, three school friends record a silly video to “Losing My Religion.” After one of them posts it on YouTube it causes a stir in the local Muslim community because all three women are wearing hijabs. While two of them enjoy the attention (Law Wallner, Maya Wopienka), the effects on Yesmin (Melina Benli) are more detrimental. Since her family is Kurdish and Muslim, an immediate rift develops. The significant pressure isn’t shared by her friends, which alienates Yesmin, further aggravated when her posse begins to hang with young local men who are Kurdish. Yesmin is thus forced to navigate the confrontation between her own parallel identities with ideas imposed upon her.
Ayub presents Yesmin’s world as an odd melange of elements, beginning with the familiar gender attachment styles whereby she’s favored by dad while mom prizes her older brother. Much like their random decision to make a homemade R.E.M. music video, there are other colorful snippets aided by a fascinating mixture of inspirations for Yesmin, including but not limited to something totally unexpected, like a Polish print of the film Alien (1979), designed by Jakub Erol. However, once the video is posted, causing controversy (though not ending in the violent misery many similar cinematic ventures careen towards), Sonne retreats as a narrative, settling into Yesmin’s own significant journey. But navigating this interiority is where Ayub’s film seems to spin its wheels.
Strangely, Ayub seems to have found the perfect collaborator in the singularity subversive Ulrich Seidl, serving as producer with material he seems prone to examine. The collision course of cultural expectation and religious protocols usually equates to toxic spiraling in Seidl’s work, and while Ayub is ultimately a bit more tender with her handling of Yesmin, an irrevocable shift has occurred in her understanding of an apathetic universe.
Not unlike Cuties (2020), or any number of recent films utilizing the detrimental effects of dance and social media, at least within local communities, music seems to inspire a timeless outrage for those living out loud in its splendor. Whether it was Footloose or Elvis Presley, the bodily pleasure of dance threatens the fragile conservatism of a status quo founded in piousness of the soul and rigidity of the body, and Sonne follows a similar through line for Yesmin.
Ultimately, there’s no considerable resolution, other than an unexpectedly frivolous action fomenting the end of innocence for one young woman. Interesting, but not exactly covering new ground, Ayub’s power lies in her film’s intimate moments. Less detrimental than something like Ayten Amin’s similar Souad (2020) and not eventually as potent as Eighth Grade (2018), Yesmin is another in a series of depictions defined by how social media engagement eventually makes its mark and takes its toll. The lucky ones survive, forced to contend with a learning experience when the fantasy ends.
Reviewed on February 20th at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival – Encounters Section. 87 mins.