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A German film that the Oscars missed

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Briquet Nicolas/ABACA/Newscom

(Read caption) Actress Sibel Kekilli (l.) and director Feo Aladag (r.) hold the Golden Star award for best performance for the German film "When we Leave," or "Die Fremde," during the 10th Marrakech Film Festival in Morocco on Dec. 11, 2010.

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The Oscar nomination list is out, and I'm sorry to find that the German fictional film "Die Fremde" (or "When We Leave") did not make the list for best foreign film.

I saw it in Washington at a film festival last week, nudged to the theater by an email from a German nonprofit group. The email's thumbnail description said the film depicts the "cultural conflicts of a German-born Turkish woman who is unhappy with her married life in Turkey. The protagonist wishes to return with her son to Germany but gets no support from her parents still living in Germany."

Germany and Turkey. I lived in the former country as a foreign correspondent and have traveled several times to the latter. For the price of a theater ticket, I looked forward to visiting both places again.

I probably would not have gone, however, had I known that the film was really about an "honor killing." I don't do well with violence in films. I closed my eyes three times in "True Grit," though I should have known given it's the Coen brothers (loved the movie, not the violence).

In retrospect, I'm very glad I saw this German film. It made for engaging cinema, working toward its surprising, aching conclusion gradually and masterfully. Its characters – German and Turk, well- and ill-behaving – earned my empathy. But its real value was its message.

For years I've known about honor killings in parts of the Middle East and Asia, in which a member of the family or community is murdered for bringing dishonor on said family or community. Usually the crime is committed against women, usually for perceived sexual disgrace: adultery, being raped, leaving an arranged marriage or refusing one, premarital sex, and even for wearing clothing deemed too revealing. The United Nations estimates 5,000 such killings per year, globally. Human rights groups say it's more like 20,000.


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