The Movie Waffler New Release Review - ELAHA | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - ELAHA

Elaha review
A young bride-to-be considers hymen reconstruction so as not to be shunned by her conservative Kurdish community.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Milena Aboyan

Starring: Bayan Layla, Derya Durmaz, Nazmi Kirik, Armin Wahedi, Derya Dilber, Cansu Dogan, Beritan Balci

Elaha poster

I think it was Tammy Wynette who famously sang "Sometimes it's hard to be a woman, keeping your hymen intact for just one man." Okay, maybe not, but had Wynette been born into certain communities that may well have been how the song goes. In Germany's tightly knit Kurdish community - the setting of writer/director Milena Aboyan's feature debut Elaha - a woman is expected to have a fully intact hymen on her wedding night. Never mind that some women are born without one, or that it can be eroded by activities that have nothing to do with sex. Them's the rules.

Elaha review

"I love my culture's traditions, I just don't agree with some of its rules." That's how the titular teen (Bayan Layla) sums up her relationship with her community. It's a sentiment that will no doubt resonate with many young Europeans from immigrant backgrounds, the conflict between pride in their traditional background and a desire to integrate with the liberal culture they grew up in. At one point Elaha expresses a desire for a "German vagina," which wouldn't come under the same sort of scrutiny, and she has a secret non-Kurdish boyfriend, Yusuf (Slavko Papadic), who treats her as an equal rather than a possession. But it's been decided that she should wed Nasim (Armin Wahedi). Elaha is naturally troubled with the idea of entering a marriage founded on traditional expectations rather than love, but she has a more immediate concern regarding the repercussions when Nasim discovers she isn't the virgin he believes.

With the wedding just nine weeks away, Elaha searches for a solution. She comes across various clinics that will perform reconstructive vaginal surgery, but the cost of such a procedure is far beyond her budget, and she would need a second party to vouch for a loan. Another option explored is that of over-the-counter fake hymens, which expel fake blood upon penetration, but a test run with a very confused Yusuf proves such a device useless. Confiding in liberal Germans from outside her community results in naive pleas to run away from her family, something Elaha isn't remotely willing to do.

Elaha review

Aboyan's film isn't simply a one-note condemnation of a culture considered backwards by liberal Western European standards. Elaha is surrounded by good people who just happen to hold unfortunate views set in stone by men hundreds of years ago. Her mother claims she would rather her daughter be dead than be without her "purity," but we later see that she really doesn't believe her own words. It would have been easy for Aboyan to take the lazy route of making Nasim a villainous figure, but he comes across as a perfectly decent bloke. The only time he acts like an asshole is when he discovers Elaha out celebrating a friend's birthday, at which point he turns into an entitled, misogynistic oaf. But even then he quickly realises how badly he's acted and breaks down in tears seeking forgiveness. It's clear that many of the people here are in constant conflict with the more regrettable aspects of their culture, but nobody dare question it.

Elaha review

The young Layla is quite a find. It's a difficult role as she's essentially playing a young woman who is herself putting on an act with almost everyone she interacts with and she's asked to simultaneously embody desperation and defiance. When actresses are said to have delivered "brave" performances it usually means they had to go without make-up or appear nude. Layla is frequently required to shed her clothes here, but her performance is the definition of brave in that she risks real life ostracisation from her community for taking on such a role. Far from exploitative, the nudity is very much part of the storytelling here as Elaha grows less ashamed of her body. The film closes with a defiant shedding of her clothes as Elaha stands proud, comfortable in the body that has caused her so much trouble. As the camera invites us to ponder Layla's undeniably impressive figure, we're left to ponder why the female form has fuelled so many bad ideas in men, and why it continues to be governed by so many terrible rules.

 is in UK/ROI cinemas from April 26th.

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