Nada Mucho

Sonne: What’s the Piquancy, Kenneth?

Posted by June 3rd, 2023 1 Comment »

Sonne (2022)
Directed by Kurdwin Ayub
Starring Melina Benli, Law Wallner and Maya Wopienka

As viewed at the 49th Annual Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF)

The journey of self-discovery has always been muddy, but these days the road less traveled by doesn’t seem to make any difference.

In Kurdwin Ayub’s brilliant Sonne, three teenage girls film themselves parodying R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” but they do it wearing burqas. When the video goes viral, their lives and identities change in unexpected ways.

Quite often, a premise this topical turns me off—sometimes immediately. I won’t even bother buying tickets. Luckily, I experienced Sonne in the shadow of Optimum Immersion. I hadn’t read a blurb or even seen a thumbnail before entering the SIFF Film Center on the Seattle Center grounds, and I am so glad I didn’t. 

When the first scene introduces us to Yesmin (Melina Benli) and her friends Bella (Law Wallner) and Nati (Maya Wopienka), they’re filming themselves trying to be funny. I wasn’t shocked. I was a bit uncomfortable, certainly confused, and slightly intrigued. Two European teens and their Kurdish friend wearing the burqas her mother prays in while singing a 90s classic about struggles with faith—what have I gotten myself into?

Kurdwin Ayub takes what could be an 87 minute cringe fest and instead frames a very intimate portrayal of youth culture in the Information Age. I have no idea what it would be like to go through puberty with YouTube. Sounds like a horrifying morass, and Ayub’s directing style gives us a sense of that. The mixture of standard ratio camera work and vertical, smart-phone ratio imagery create a very detached feeling for the viewer. By switching almost randomly between these ratios, Ayub creates a disorienting experience. Especially when images on screen become Tik-Tok style montages of Yesmin and her friend’s lives. Too much of life is viewed through these tiny, 2001 Space Odyssey monoliths we carry in our pockets. Is Ayub’s Sonne judgemental of this fact? Possibly. It certainly doesn’t paint it in a positive light.

What Sonne did do is positively scare the shit out of me. The portrayal of Yesmin’s family unit, the ineffectual father and the nagging mother, the rudderless son—it all provides such a startling contrast to Yesmin’s misguided attempts at independence. Yesmin is a Kurdish-Austrian teenage girl coming of age in the age of algorithms. When Yesmin finds out her friends have posted their parody song to YouTube, she’s very upset. I don’t want to get too deep into the plot, but just imagine if something you and your adolescent friends did as a joke wound up online. Adolescence was confusing enough thirty years ago. I can’t imagine what it’s like now.

I think this film speaks to something that is either shifting, or has all together shifted already in our culture. Immigrant or not, everyone has a hyphenated-self: there’s ourself with our parents, there’s ourself with our friends, there’s our professional self, and there’s our personal self. That’s nothing new, but in an age of online viral attention-seeking, a guise or a gaff posted online can get seared onto an individual and become their only self. This weird world is the environment in which our children and youth must mature and ‘find’ themselves, but with the insidious need for online-attention, where the desire for likes and views distorts our healthier incentives, finding oneself feels like a losing game.

This film is VERY CINEMA.

One thought on “Sonne: What’s the Piquancy, Kenneth?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2023 Nada Mucho