In Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire, angels float from room to room, yard to yard, street to street, car to car, listening to the thoughts of people. The city for them is a sea of consciousness. They hear words of worry, love, loneliness, dread, and grief. Suddenly, a car packed with Turks passes an angel, but nothing is heard. The angel does not hear the thoughts of the Turks. For him, their heads are filled with silence. Does the angel not understand Turkish? Why would an angel know only German? And even if the angel knows only German, why didn't he at least hear the sounds of the strange language? This silence is the most troubling thing about Wenders's film.
With When We Leave, a feature made a quarter of a century after Wings of Desire, the silence of the Turks is broken. The mystery of their world blows away like smoke and we enter their homes and bedrooms, and see their long dining tables. The movie is about Umay (Sibel Kekilli) and begins in Istanbul. Umay has a son, Cem (Nizam Schiller), and a husband, Kemal (Ufuk Bayraktar). All three live with Kemal's family in one of the many high-rises in a working-class section of the city. Fed up with her husband's abuse, Umay grabs her son, jumps on a plane, and flies to Berlin. Her parents and siblings live and work in Berlin. The whole family stays in one big flat. The family is working class, traditional, proud, and not at all happy about her return. They want Umay to go back to her husband and behave like a proper wife. But Umay is determined to stay in Berlin. She leaves the flat, becomes a single mother, and shames the family.
"We are ruined," says Umay's mother. These are the truest words in the film. Umay's break from the family is so brutal, one wonders if it's worth all the trouble and suffering it causes. Life under an oppressive husband seems much better than the chaos, pain, and destruction (heart attacks, stabbings, guns, blows, kicks in the stomach, broken beer bottles, screams in the night) brought on by her resolve to completely break with the hard customs of her culture. No one wins in this film.