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Head-On

A marriage of convenience in Hamburg between two troubled Turks changes both their lives in the gritty, contempo love story "Head-On." More passionate than helmer Fatih Akin's previous pic, "Solino," this fourth feature, which won the Berlin fest's Golden Bear, will ride a high-profile festival career into upbeat biz in major arthouse markets.

A marriage of convenience in Hamburg between two troubled Turks changes both their lives in the fine, gritty, contempo love story “Head-On.” More immediate and passionate than helmer Fatih Akin’s previous pic, “Solino,” this ambitious, confident fourth feature, which won the Berlin fest’s Golden Bear, will ride a high-profile festival career into upbeat biz in major arthouse markets and later hold its head high in ancillary.

Following an obviously long-standing path of self-destructive behavior, 40-year-old Cahit (Birol Unel) concludes a night of drinking and fighting by driving his old car head-on into the wall of a building. At the psychiatric clinic, a well-meaning doctor (Hermann Lause) quotes cult band the The to his incredulous patient: “If you can’t change the world, change your world.”

Soon thereafter, he’s approached by a patient, Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), who asks him to marry her. A charming, effervescent would-be free spirit, Sibel yearns to break free from the suffocating control of her devout parents (Aysel Iscan, Demir Gokgol) and wild-eyed, overprotective brother (Cem Akin). So desperate she’s tried to slash her wrists, her offer of marriage includes living separate lives.

Initially reluctant, Cahit allows himself to be cleaned up and, under the tutelage of pal Seref (Guven Kirac), manages to persuade her suspicious family that he’s legit.

After their traditional marriage, she takes to freedom like a duck to water. In addition to drinking and drugging with Cahit, Sibel gets her navel pierced and drags him to clubs, where he usually passes out and she leaves with a different man each time. Cahit is comfortable with the arrangement for a few months, content to have a clean flat for once and enjoying rough sex with on-again, off-again lover Maren (Catrin Striebeck), who hires Sibel at her hair salon.

Drawing strength from Sibel’s love of life, Cahit begins to tumble for her. In a jealous fit of rage he dispatches one of the men with whom she had a one-night stand after he returns to mock the cuckold. With Cahit headed for prison, Sibel realizes she loves him, too, and during her subsequent stay in Istanbul without him, she spirals down into personal degradation.

Later, a newly focused Cahit travels to Istanbul for a climactic meeting with the now-settled Sibel.

To a story that sounds conventional and convoluted on the page, Akin brings work that equals his previous best. Pic possesses the nervous lowlife energy of “Short Sharp Shock,” the leisurely yet logical plotting and careful attention to character detail of “Solino” and just enough of the quirky, life-affirming humor of “In July” to keep the proceedings from bogging down in the grief these two cause each other on their way to mutual respect and love.

Akin also clearly relishes the chance to dive deeper into Turkish culture and explore the slippery slope of identity and cultural pride faced by Turks who either move to or are born in Germany. The dreary, multicultural, working-class district of Hamburg-Altona is a far cry from the sunny beauty of Istanbul, where Cahit is startled to discover his Turkish cabbie actually hails from Bavaria.

Unel, who has been in all Akin’s features save “Solino,” brings an appealing ferocity to Cahit. Newcomer Kekilli, discovered by Akin after an exhaustive search for what his producers called “young women who speak Turkish fluently and are ready to get undressed in front of the camera,” has a lithe beauty and a natural relationship with the lens. Frequent collaborator and co-producer Mehmet Kurtulus plays a bartender who exploits Sibel during her debasement in Istanbul. Other perfs are fine.

Tech credits are top-of-the-line in all departments. Musical interludes serve to underscore the tragedy as they relieve the intensity; longtime Akin crony Idil Uner interprets numerous tunes by Romany musician Selim Sesler, accompanied against an Istanbul backdrop by a six-piece band.

Head-On

Germany

  • Production: A Timebandits Films release (in Germany) of a Wueste production, in co-production with Corazon Intl., NDR/Arte. (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Geiselgasteig, Germany.) Produced by Ralph Schwingel, Stefan Schubert. Co-producers, Fatih Akin, Andreas Thiel, Mehmet Kurtulus. Directed, written by Fatih Akin.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Rainer Klausmann; editor, Andrew Bird; music consultant, Klaus Maeck; production designer, Tamo Kunz; sound (Dolby), Kai Luede; casting, Mai Seck. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 12, 2004. Running time: 122 MIN. (Turkish, German, English dialogue)
  • With: Cahit Tomruk - Birol Unel Sibel Guner - Sibel Kekilli Maren - Catrin Striebeck Seref - Guven Kirac Selma - Meltem Cumbul Yilmaz Guner - Cem Akin Birsen Guner - Aysel Iscan Yunus Guner - Demir Gokgol Nico - Stefan Gebelhoff Dr. Schiller - Hermann Lause Lukas - Adam Bousdoukos Ammer - Ralph Misske Huseyin - Mehmet Kurtulus
  • Music By: