(Gegen die Wand)

foreign films

Head-On (Gegen die Wand)
Made in: Germany
Language: German, Turkish, English
Director: Fatih Akin
Starring: Birol Ünel, Sibel Kekilli, Catrin Striebeck, Meltem Cumbul
Year: 2004

Synopsis: A Hard-rockin', head-bangin' directionless loser named Cahit (Birol Ünel) is living a dead-end existence in Hamburg. He was born in Turkey, but Germany is his adopted home. After unsuccessfully trying to kill himself, he ends up in a mental institution.

There, he encounters Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), who's at the same institution for attempting suicide. She's a young woman who, like Cahit, is Turkish. Sibel is from an extremely conservative muslim family, and having lived a repressed, restricted life while residing in a free society, she longs to be free. She blindly proposes marriage to Cahit as a way of getting away from her family.

Eventually, Cahit agrees. The marriage is secretly a sham, as Cahit continues being a nihilist while Sibel essentially becomes a libertine and starts sleeping around. Sibel wants freedom whereas Cahit wants stability. But their new situation creates a host of new problems, and soon they realize that they cannot escape the heartbreaks and challenges that come with being part of two vastly different cultures.

The Good: Of course, Head-On isn't meant to characterize all Turkish-Germans. As a story about a particular couple going through a specific circumstance, it's intense, compelling, and believable.

Sibel Kekilli and Birol Ünel are strong protagonists, and their characters are very complex and well-crafted. Their passion, rage, and frustrations are all genuine. And despite many harrowing, violent scenes, director Fatih Akin creates a strong story that touches upon many factors that any person from a cross-cultural upbringing can relate to, or at least understand.

The film is also cleverly segmented by panoramic shots of a Turkish music group performing on the shores of the Bosporus. This helps divide the film into "chapters," and gives us a breather from some of the crazier moments.

The Bad: Head-On has a running time of about two hours, but feels even longer. The emotional turmoil, although believable, gets to be too much at times.

Who would like this movie: Head-On is for you if you like edgier foreign films, and movies about the grittier side of life. This one is not for the faint of heart, either. There's a lot of bad language, violence, and sexuality, and the story never shies away from being explicit or depressing. The slow pace and length give it the feel of a saga, and you should only check it out if you're in the mood to see something dark.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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