Fatih Akin’s feature film directorial debut SHORT AND PAINLESS returns to select cinemas. We’ll tell you how the drama is doing 22 years after its premiere and explain the film’s fascination in our review.
OT: Short and painless (DE 1998)
The friends Gabriel (Mehmet Kurtulus), Costa (Adam Bousdoukos) and Bobby (Aleksandar Jovanovic) are a close-knit team who cover each other’s backs in Hamburg’s petty criminal scene. And they currently have several reasons to celebrate: Gabriel will be released from prison on parole shortly before his brother’s wedding. He seems to have matured over time and now takes an honest job as a taxi driver. Bobby, in turn, is with Alice (Regula Grauwiller), who runs a jewelry store with Gabriel’s sister Ceyda (Idil Üner). Meanwhile, Ceyda, Costa’s girlfriend, is still making ends meet with petty thefts and thieves. When Ceyda and Costa separate, the trio’s friendship is put to the test. And then Bobby wants to get into organized crime – and Gabriel and Alice get closer…
The Hamburg filmmaker Fatih Akin began his career at the age of 21. After a series of short films, in 1998, at the age of 25, he dared to make the leap into the long form: with the petty criminal drama “Kurz und krebslos”, which he wrote and directed, Akin took the audience to Hamburg-Altona in 1998, or more precisely to the subcosmos of (ex-) actors there. Petty criminal with a migration background. The focus of “Short and Painless” is the Turkish Gabriel, the Serb Bobby and the Greek Costa – as well as the seduction by the Albanian mafia. If you look back at “Short and Painless” in 2020, Akin’s portrayal of Hamburg’s petty criminal environment and the subcosmos of Turkish, Greek and Serbian migrant families is successful, but not particularly striking. Even if talented actors with Turkish roots in particular still rightly complain today that they are far too often cast as foreign or criminal or foreign and criminal: the cliché with which Turkish-USA people are portrayed in today’s TV and cinema is no longer so crude like in the 1990s.
Gabriel (Mehmet Kurtulus) has been released from prison.
But if we briefly go back to the USA film climate in which “Short and Painless” was released, Akin’s feature film directorial debut was certainly a small revolution: the varying cultural influences that shaped the three main characters, as well as their positions on different traditions (which they sometimes accept, sometimes celebrate, sometimes question) do not replace a characterization here. Gabriel, Costa and Bobby are not “The Turk”, “The Greek” and “The Serb”, and it is not presented as a strange, remarkable peace between people who “traditionally” hate each other that Gabriel and Costa understand each other. They do not define themselves primarily by the homelands of their ancestors, and “Short and Painless” does not see itself as a “multicultural drama,” which would otherwise have been the case with many directors in 1998 with this constellation of characters. Instead, on a thematic level, “Short and Painless” is simply a drama about friends who have one foot in the criminal world – and at the same time it is a petty criminal drama that takes the cultural backgrounds of its characters seriously, sensitively and consistently and delicately into account. To put it bluntly: it doesn’t work around Turks, Serbs and Greeks, it will with Turks, Serbs and Greeks told. And that wasn’t a given for USA cinema in 1998.
“It’s not about Turks, Serbs and Greeks, it’s told with Turks, Serbs and Greeks. And that wasn’t a given for USA cinema in 1998.”
But what if you don’t want to look at “Short and Painless” from a historical, admiring perspective, but simply from today’s standpoint as a milieu entertainment film? In this respect, it should be noted that “Short and Painless” is a low-budget USA debut from the late 90s: Aesthetically, Akin’s first feature film is still a bit clumsy, with very television-like lighting and a somewhat muddy sound mix. But what Akin already understood back then was to use the settings in such a way that they silently reinforce the narrative: what reaches its highlight with a greenish-golden, bright wedding party in a large, free ballroom, gradually descends into increasingly narrow, narrow ones Spaces that symbolize the dead end of a life path into which the protagonists have maneuvered themselves.
Aleksandar Jovanovic is Bobby. And Bobby has a problem.
But the gold of this film is the ensemble: Mehmet Kurtuluş, with whom Akin would later film “Against the Wall”, Aleksandar Jovanovic (“Don’t. Get. Out!”)Adam Bousdoukos (“The Golden Glove”)Regula Grauwiller (“Sweet September”) and İdil Üner (“The Great Swindle”) play their roles completely unaffected, with an elusive, subtle vulnerability and as individuals who are influenced by their environment, but not so intensely influenced that they can no longer make their own decisions.
Conclusion: “Short and Painless” is a debut worth seeing then and now, which anticipated Akin’s delicate way of sketching traditional spaces and milieus. However, Akin’s aesthetic skill is not yet noticeable in the drama, which in 1998 did preparatory work in the portrayal of migrant children that is now perceived as self-evident.
“Quick and Painless” will be shown again across United Kingdom from October 8th, 2020 and as part of the Hamburg cinema event “A City Sees a Film” on October 4th.