Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Head-On Collision Reveals Deep Wounds

Head-On (Gegen Die Wand)

The idea of a marriage of convenience is nothing new in the world of cinema. In fact it seems to have been approached from every possible angle. This is why it is refreshing to see Faith Akin’s interpretation of the subject in his fascinating film Head-On. Winner of The Golden Bear Award for Best film at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival, the film is a dark romance that highlights how love can develop in the most unexpected ways.

After intentionally driving his car into a wall, Cahit (Birol Unel) is sent to a psychiatric clinic where he meets Sibel (Sibel Kekilli). A fellow Turkish German like Cahit, Sibel is in the clinic for her attempted suicides. Out of nowhere Sibel proposes that the pair get married. Sibel knows that a traditional Turkish wedding is the only way she can escape her demanding family. Cahit ignores Sibel’s request at first but eventually agrees to the fake union. Although the pair live more like roommates than an actual married couple, Cahit cannot help but feel drawn to Sibel despite his better judgment.

Head-On is as much a tale of female independence as it is a story of two damaged souls finding love. Sibel would rather die than suffer another day of abuse at the hand of her family. The fake marriage provides her with freedom from both a mental and sexual standpoint. However Sibel’s story arc also hinders the film somewhat. There is a very dark section of the film where Sibel is on a self-destructive path. The scenes are tough to watch and break up the great flow that the film had previously established.

Fortunately Akin wisely steers the film back on track by focusing on Cahit and Sibel’s complex relationship. Both Unel and Kekilli give brilliant performances in their respective roles. Their interpretations of the characters allow the film to avoid many of the plot conventions that arise in similar films. The choices that each character makes by the end of Head-On feels natural instead of contrived. This is due to the fact that Akin takes his time to develop Cahit and Sibel’s unique relationship. He makes sure to factor in the cultural ramification along with the personal ones that they both face.

Stylistically speaking Akin makes some daring choices that pay off surprisingly well. Most notably the use of a chorus to introduce each act is rather effective. Besides sparingly utilizing freeze frames, Akin uses several tricks to help bring a lighter tone to parts of the film. Simple shots such as when the camera pans out as Sibel is walking down the street in her wedding dress gives the film moments of whimsy.

Although the needless detour in the third act into Sibel’s self-destructive side keeps the film from truly being great. Head-On is an extremely engaging film that turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Head-On (Gegen Die Wand) is part of our "The Must See List" series. The film was recommended by Anonymous.


  1. I love this film- Fatih Akin is one of my favorite German-language directors. HEAD-ON is so intense that I watch it sparingly, but I do think it's his best film so far. You're right though, the segment of Sibel's self-destructive time in Turkey is probably the weakest part.

  2. @Alex - The film had some moments that were really tough to sit through (in a good way). This was my first experience with the director but I am looking forward to catching up on Akin's other films. I remember hearing mixed reviews about Soul Kitchen at TIFF a few years back.

  3. SOUL KITCHEN and his earlier film IN JULY are both comedies, so it's a totally different approach than something like HEAD-ON or his follow-up THE EDGE OF HEAVEN. Personally I like all that I've seen from him (just those four so far) but HEAD-ON and IN JULY are my favorites.

  4. Nice review CS, this is one I've been meaning to see for awhile.

  5. @Alex – I will put those three films on my list of titles to seek out. Thanks!

    @Bonjour Tristesse – I would really be interested to hear your thoughts on the film, especially with your extensive knowledge of foreign cinema, once you see it.


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