The Armenian genocide and its aftermath are filtered through the eyes of a featureless man in The Cut, Turkish director Fatih Akin’s laborious latest. A globe-spanning saga that, despite its series of locales, fails to achieve anything like an epic scope, the Head-On director’s film concerns Nazaret (A Prophet and The Past’s Tahar Rahim), an Armenian blacksmith in 1912 who is taken from his Turkish hometown of Mardin by the Ottoman army and enlisted as a forced laborer. Soon afterward, he miraculously cheats death when a nervous executioner gives him a stab wound in the neck that doesn’t kill him but does rob him of his voice. Now mute, Nazaret wanders the desert. He shuffles into a refugee camp full of starving Armenians (including his dying sister-in-law, who tells Nazaret that his wife and daughters are dead before asking to be put out of her own misery), as well as a town where he’s offered a moment of respite from his misery when he happens upon a showing of The Kid.
If Nazaret’s voiceless condition makes him a kindred spirit to Chaplin, Akin also intends his hero to represent the many Armenians “silenced” by the Turks. Unfortunately, that symbolism is as heavy-handed as The Cut is sluggish. Rahim does his best to convey Nazaret’s grief via angry outbursts, frantic hand gestures, and morose stares off into the distance. His protagonist, however, is a blank, devoid of any characteristics other than the will to survive and, during the film’s second half, the burning desire to find his twin daughters once he’s told, in one of innumerable overly convenient plot twists, that they’re actually alive. As written by Akin and Raging Bull scribe Mardik Martin, Nazaret is a cipher designed primarily to move the story along, and as such his quest comes across as hopelessly generic, and lacking the burning emotions—not just enduring paternal devotion, but also rage, confusion, and alienation—that it desperately requires.
Nazaret’s journey takes him from Turkey to Cuba to Florida to, eventually, Minnesota, and it plays out like a series of cursory pit-stops along a path to preordained reunion. Akin glosses over the arduous realities that such a trip might entail, just as he skims past the suggestion that his protagonist might have lost his Christian faith thanks to his horrific experiences. The director’s assured tracking shots follow Nazaret through one bustling, disorienting locale after another as he searches for help, family, and relief from his hardship. Yet like the film, they’re ultimately superficial gestures that maintain a detached perspective on their subject, incapable of penetrating his traumatized mind and tormented heart.