erasing clouds

Following the road to self-destruction, finding the path to love in Fatih Akin's Head-On

by anna battista

Turkish-German Cahit (Birol Ünel) is intent on destroying himself: drinking, taking drugs, fighting in pubs and driving his car into a concrete wall. As a consequence of his actions, Cahit ends up in a mental institution where he meets Sibel (Sibel Kekilli). Young, beautiful and Turkish-German like Cahit, Sibel is in the clinic because she tried to kill herself to escape her life with her traditional and conservative family. It's just minutes after they meet that Sibel asks Cahit to marry her so that she will be able to move out of her family's house and live a free life. Cahit reluctantly agrees to this marriage of convenience and they eventually move together.

At the beginning, Cahit and Sibel live like flatmates to a soundtrack of 1980s music (Depeche Mode among the others) interspersed with Turkish songs, surrounded by punk images (the door of Cahit's flat is adorned with a poster of Siouxsie And The Banshees). Their main activity seems to be spending time in clubs and drinking away their troubles. Sibel often picks up the men she fancies in the various clubs she visits, while Cahit has occasional one night stands with his sometimes girlfriend Maren (Catrin Striebeck). Yet, something slowly and relentlessly changes between Cahit and Sibel, they actually fall in love. When they realise what's happening between them it's too late though, jealousy gets in the way and separates them putting a tragic twist to their existences.

Fatih Akin's Head-On (Gegen die Wand) is a powerful love story that also manages at times to be funny and romantic. The film, shot in Germany and Turkey, explores the lives of Turkish immigrants in Hamburg and the loss of identity (Cahit arouses suspicions in Sibel's family since his Turkish is not that good), but it's mainly about two lost souls, a man and a woman who change each other. From the loser he was at the beginning of the film, Cahit learns to love and live from Sibel; from him Sibel learns to be happy and free, but also to cry sincere and bitter tears. Ünel and Kekilli's performances are amazing and realistic: you definitely feel their emotional pain while watching them interacting on screen.

Akin, born in 1973 in Hamburg from Turkish parents, wrote and directed his first short feature Sensin - You're The One! (Sensin - Du bist es!) in 1995, since then his films received many awards, but it's the harrowing and raw Head-On that won him a deserved Golden Bear at the 54th Berlin Film Festival, becoming the first German film to take a top prize at the event in 18 years. If Head On really signals the rebirth of the German film industry, as many critics suggested, we'd better keep an eye on Germany.


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