Written by Florian Öeller and directed by Sherry Hormann, A Regular Woman (Nur Eine Frau, the exact translation of which is Just a Woman) is a German narrative feature that fictionalizes the story of Hatun Aynur Sürücü, a 23-year-old woman shot to death by her brother in an ‘honor killing’ in 2005. Seasoned and award-winning actress Almila Bagriacik, who plays Sürücü, is not only mesmerizing to watch, she is the spitting image of the real-life victim.
The film begins at the end, a la Sunset Boulevard, with a reveal by the narrator that she is the dead body under the bloody white sheet near a Berlin bus station. After introducing her Turkish, ultra conservative Muslim family, and warning us of who will betray her and who will stand by her side, she goes backwards in time to when she is 16, and married off to her cousin. A ‘change of owner’, as she calls it, means she will be shipped off to her ancestral home in Turkey to be the proper wife of a stranger and bear his children. In less than a year, pregnant with his child and marked with the telltale bruises of abuse all over her body, she flees him and returns to her parents’ home in Berlin.
She is not welcome. Life with her family devolves, so she goes to a German Home for Underaged Mothers. Determined to live a happy, independent life with her son, she takes classes, finds friends, and builds a support system. It is the fact that she loves her family that has her returning again and again to them, even with her brothers calling her incessantly to berate and insult her. As the audience watches her attempt to move forward, the film evokes a mix of outrage, hopelessness, and resignation. We know her fatal flaw is her optimism, and her belief that her family can change.
Bagriacik has to carry A Regular Woman, and she does it ably, vacillating emotionally between hurt, determination, trust, and feeling betrayal, sometimes within one scene. There is a stillness to the way she portrays Aynur, yet we also see both her inner turmoil and steely determination. Playing a woman with such bravery in what is ultimately a tragic story, is a tall order indeed.