by Kurdwin Ayub
Kurdwin Ayub is not afraid to dare and experiment with new film languages. This, after all, is what she has always done in her previous works as well. In Sonne, therefore, the director also finally feels free to develop and explore themes close to her heart from the perspective of teenagers who live in a big European city, but who come from all over the world. What, then, does homeland mean? At the Berlinale 2022.
Three talented girls
Among the most promising names in contemporary Austrian cinema is undoubtedly young director Kurdwin Ayub. After numerous short films, documentaries and video clips, the Iraqi-born filmmaker has finally made her first fiction feature. A courageous, lively and extremely personal feature film that impresses first and foremost for its innovative style and its fresh and dynamic directorial approach. This is Sonne, which had its world premiere at the Berlinale 2022 – in the Encounters section – and will open the Diagonale’22.
It all starts with a trio of inseparable friends: Yesmin (played by Melina Benli) is Kurdish and has always worn a veil, Bella (Law Wallner) is half-Yugoslavian, while Nati (Maya Wopienka) says she is ‘from Austria’. One day, as a joke, the three girls film a music video on their mobile phones in which they all wear burqas and sing the R. E. M. song Losing my Religion. Unexpectedly, this video goes viral on YouTube, the girls begin to become popular and are invited to numerous parties in the Muslim community, often accompanied by Yesmin’s father (played by Omar Ayub, the director’s father), who immediately appreciated their performance. Following this sudden success, however, the three friends will have very different reactions: while Bella and Nati will begin to feel closer and closer to the Kurdish patriotic cause, Yesmin will slowly begin to distance herself from them.
Lively, colourful, extremely vibrant, Sonne undoubtedly represents a sensational debut. Kurdwin Ayub, for her part, has staged in a fictional feature film very personal themes that she had already addressed in her previous documentary Paradise! Paradise! and here she sees in sensitive Yesmin almost her alter ego. Yesmin is a responsible girl who is very fond of her family and its traditions. Her father is an open-minded man who has always allowed her many freedoms. Yet somehow, the girl begins to feel uncomfortable when some of her friends tell her how a woman should behave and Nati and Bella, at the same time, seem to want to get closer to a cause they don’t really know, almost as if they want to seek their own identity at all costs in something ‘new’ to them.
Real life and social media thus immediately become two parallel worlds, making the lives of the protagonists themselves also ‘double’. Similarly, Kurdwin Ayub’s directorial approach skilfully alternates mobile phone shots with scenes from the daily lives of the three girls, revealing a great mastery of the film medium, a pronounced sensitivity and an extraordinary closeness to the characters she depicts.
Kurdwin Ayub is not afraid to dare and experiment with new film languages. This, after all, is what she has always done in her previous works as well. In Sonne, therefore, the director also finally feels free to develop and explore themes close to her heart from the perspective of teenagers who live in a big European city, but who come from all over the world. What, then, does homeland mean? This question is much more complex than it may at first seem, and Kurdwin Ayub does not want to give a definitive answer to it at all costs, but makes us understand in a direct and intelligent way that, to really know a reality, one often has to experience it personally and that a veil is not enough to characterise a person and his or her history. The intense close-ups of Yesmin’s melancholic face speak for themselves.
Original title: Sonne
Directed by: Kurdwin Ayub
Country/year: Austria / 2022
Running time: 87’
Cast: Melina Benli, Law Wallner, Maya Wopienka, Omar Ayub, Marlene Hauser
Screenplay: Kurdwin Ayub
Cinematography: Enzo Brandner
Produced by: Ulrich Seidl Filmproduktion