Head On

Germany/Turkey 2004

Film still for Head On

Reviewed by Nick James


One of the major surprises from 2004's Berlin competition was Fatih Akin's Hamburg-set melodrama 'Head On' ('Gegen die Wand'), which pays off the promise of its title to the maximum. It begins with a deadpan observation of the self-destructive lifestyle of its male protagonist Cahit (Birol √únel), a mid-life drunk who collects glasses in a rock club and spends the rest of his time in a pain-killing stupor. These early stages offer an amused, even affectionate wallow in the rebarbative, as if the film were out to destroy any trace of sympathy for this deliberate misfit. Yet there's a disturbingly magnetic, rock-star-gone-to-seed quality to Cahit (√únel looks like a handsomely cruel mismatch between Mick Jagger and Kusturica) that leads one to suspect (correctly) that any investment in his nihilism will pay off in the long run.

When Cahit tries unsuccessfully to kill himself (seemingly because his long-term woman/wife has deserted him) by driving at full speed into a wall, he is put in hospital. There he meets fellow failed suicide Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), an attractive young German-Turkish woman desperate to escape the discipline of her strict Islamic family. With barely a hesitation she asks him to marry her: he's Turkish, so her family will accept him, and he's unlikely to stop her enjoying the promiscuous western lifestyle she craves.

At first Cahit enjoys the order and cleanliness Sibel brings to his hovel of an apartment and tolerates her openness to experience, but then, by degrees, he starts to fall for her. Soon he's back to his old ways, mourning her in bars where a friend spurned by Sibel goads him into the violent act that puts him in prison at the very moment when Sibel has begun to reciprocate his affection.

Though 'Head On' has a smooth, conventional look and structure, its cinematic elegance and its facility in dealing with sometimes repellent subject matter in an energising way make it vastly superior to the merely well-realised television movies that often count at film festivals as German cinema.

Culture-clash comedy is handled as competently as blood-and-thunder rock tragedy. Deftly stepping between the gritty and the witty, the affecting and the grim, director Akin proves he has the chops to work anywhere, and one fears that Hollywood might grab him before he gets the chance to make any more stimulating home-grown productions. Music-inspired films are rarely this full-blooded or full of unexpectedly pungent performances and rug-pulling narrative twists, and 'Head On' shows Akin to be an extraordinary directing talent indeed.

Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011