Review by © Jane Freebury
Experiencing this striking new movie from Turkish-German director Fatih Akin is like colliding with an artist’s pent-up fury and frustration. And it is impossible not to be reminded of the same white heat in the work of the late German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder who explored the spaces between parallel communities in German society.
After a destructive night of drugs and binge drinking, Cahit (Birol Unel) is made to visit a psychiatrist and there he bumps into someone with an even more terrifying compulsion for self-harm, a restless young woman half his age who is trying to break away from her very strict, traditional Turkish family. Her brother broke her nose once just for holding hands with a boy.
Will Cahit marry her so she can escape, or will he watch her slit her wrists again? Cahit, a 44-year-old of Turkish immigrant parentage, was living on the outer perimeter of society anyway when Sibel came along. There’s nothing much to lose and they can divorce afterwards.
For the sake of Sibel’s family they marry in a traditional ceremony, which creates some wonderful opportunities for juxtapositions. Cahit in a dinner suit leaving his graffiti-spattered neighbourhood, the newly-weds sharing cocaine in private while the traditional ceremony continues outside, and Cahit carrying his bride over the threshold into his grungy apartment.
They argue and Sibel spends her ‘wedding night’ with a barman, as the freedom she seeks in this marriage of convenience is the freedom to sleep with whom so ever she chooses, to experiment with body piercings, to do drugs. It may sound as though Head-On is going the way of Angel Baby or Requiem for a Dream, but at the end of this journey, this movie is actually more about going home, to where the east meets west at the Bosphorus.
As the wild and willful Sibel, Turkish-speaking Sibel Kekilli brings tremendous conviction to her role. Birol Unel does well as the aging punkster, though his character is prone to posturing and not as satisfactorily developed as hers.
One can only wonder what the large Turkish minority in Germany thinks of Head-On, as one could only imagine what the Greek community in this country made of the terrific Australian film with the same name by Ana Kokinos. Both films are about young people in a dangerous struggle with their cultural traditions, and both are very compelling.