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HEAD-ON [GEGEN DIE WAND] (NR) (2004)

Strand Releasing

Official Site

Director: Fatih Akin

Producers: Stefan Schubert, Ralph Schwingel

Written by: Fatih Akin

Cast: Birol Ünel, Sibel Kekilli, Catrin Striebeck, Güven Kiraç, Meltem Cumbul

Rating:


In some bizarre alternate universe somewhere, where down is up and “The Simpsons” ripped off “Family Guy,” Fatih Akin’s Head-On is a light and chirpy romantic comedy. That, indeed, was more or less the German-Turkish director’s initial plan for the film, whose conceptual seeds were sown years ago when a Turkish friend asked Akin to marry her so she could establish permanent residence in Germany. (He declined.) Cut to the present: The rom-com idea has been chucked, the sham-marriage plotline has stuck around, and God knows what happened to the girl—but the movie is very, very good.

Cahit (Ünel), a 40-something, German Turk living in Hamburg, is a widower and a wastrel: a moody, despondent mess whose life has become a drunken whirlwind of self-loathing/-destruction following the death of his wife. (See? Not funny.) He makes his living collecting discarded glass bottles at a concert venue, has meaningless, spiteful sex with a local hairdresser, and occasionally smashes guys’ faces for some discourtesy or other. It is after a thus-typical night that Cahit, feeling particularly nihilistic (or perhaps just now finding apt expression for his customary nihilism), rams his car eyes-first into a brick wall, which gesture lands him, neck braced, in a psychiatric hospital. Here he meets Sibel (Kekilli), a lovely and angular young suicide case who begs him to marry her so she can escape her traditional Turkish parents. Cahit, who hates all things Turkish (not least of all himself) refuses outright, but she persists, saying that her parents will accept him because he is a Turk, and that their union needn’t be sexual—they’d just be roommates. When his continued stonewalling causes Sibel to freak and open her wrists again, he finally agrees, fearful that the poor little nutcase will eventually do away with herself if he doesn’t. So a cheerful Sibel gets herself bandaged up and moves on in, but, as Akin would have it, the troubles are just beginning for our star-crossed newlyweds. At first, it’s the cute stuff: He’s annoyed by her redecorating (“It looks like a chick-bomb exploded in here,” he laments), they hate each other and sleep around, etc. But events gather momentum and weight as the relationship progresses. Wild-child Sibel’s dedicated promiscuity becomes a problem as Cahit finds himself unexpectedly falling for his wife, which drives him to fits of anger, violence, and despair more focused and intense than before. Then, just as Sibel begins to soften toward her man and there’s a chance it might all turn around, one of her spurned encounters pushes Cahit too far, and things go way south in a hurry: He’s thrown in jail, she’s disowned by her family and has to flee to Istanbul (with another suicide attempt thrown in there somewhere), and everything generally goes to shit.

Despite this, Head-On is not all rainy days and drinking binges. The movie is actually very funny—like belly-laugh funny—in a number of places, and ends on a note of implicit hope that thankfully quells the desire to open an artery of your own. Further, the characterization, by both writer and cast, is superb. Kekilli is alternately beguiling and frighteningly vicious—sort of a Holly-Golightly-on-meth deal. She also, interestingly enough, caused quite a stir overseas when it was revealed that she used to be a hardcore porn actress, but that’s neither here nor there. Now that I’ve got your attention, though, Meltem Cumbul and Güven Kiraç are terrific as Sibel’s sister and Cahit’s friend/faux-uncle, respectively. Cumbul doesn’t do much in the early goings, but given her chance to shine in a pivotal scene with Cahit, she does just that. Kiraç provides welcome comic relief throughout, but also displays a peculiar tenderness which makes him perhaps the most wholly likable character in the picture. But it is Ünel who truly stays with you. He is fantastic—equally effective at simmering and exploding, with large, dark, plaintive eyes and a canny sense of comedic timing, to boot. His is a seething, transfixing presence; his transformation from dead-eyed, listless husk in the first half of the film to earnest, impassioned lover after leaving prison is something to behold—he somehow manages, subtly, to create an entirely new character two-thirds of the way through. It is his capable and wholehearted effort, ultimately, which gets across Akin’s message of the elevating, destructive, devastating, overwhelming effect of love on the human heart.

—Brian Villalobos

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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