Head in the opposite direction: Ünel and Kekilli are back in black


This critique originally appeared as a post on Siffblog, an online offshoot of the late, unlamented Tablet monthly.

The German-Turkish film Gegen Die Wand (or Head-On, as it’s known to speakers of American) isn’t a SIFF movie; it is, however, opening during the SIFF season—this Friday, May 6 at the Varsity—and as the publicist was kind enough to loan me a screener, I thought I’d make the effort to review it.

The movie has everything—provided that one’s definition of everything includes drugs, sex, suicide, sleazy nightclubs, bad haircuts, murder, anal rape, the occasional blood-spattering to get our attention (the hero and the heroine both express their innermost feelings using broken glass), and a scene in which two characters gyrate to Iggy Pop while chanting, “Punk is not dead! Punk is not dead!”

Writer-director Fatih Akin, a German citizen of Turkish descent, has tried to tell a story about displaced persons. His main characters have emigrated from Turkey to Deutschland, and both are failed suicides. Cahit, a scruffy, overage club kid (he looks to be pushing 45) who collects empty beer bottles off the floor for a living, meets the 21-year-old Sibel at a hospital where they’ve been admitted for trying to off themselves. As they’re both Turks, she proposes a marriage of convenience. They will shack up as platonic flatmates so that she can escape from living with her parents. She pesters him; he acquiesces. They marry. Predictably, the doped-up, pilsner-soaked Cahit falls genuinely in love with the parasitic leech Sibel, and they live miserably ever after. (When they finally go to bed together, she won’t let him penetrate her because that would mean they were legitimately husband and wife, and Cahit accepts this.)

None of Akin’s contrivances makes a bit of sense. The film amounts to an overloud hipster soap opera and nothing more. It could also be thought of as Sideways for the black leather and slashed wrists crowd. Instead of Pinot Noir and zipless fucks in the California wine country, it’s cocaine and Heineken in Hamburg.

I suppose it’s only fair to acknowledge that Gegen Die Wand won the Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival in addition to sweeping the Lolas (German Oscars) with wins for best picture, actor, actress, director, and cinematographer. Yet the only thing worse than this movie that I can think of would be an American remake of it. I’ve had some ideas about that: Sofia Coppola and Alexander Payne could collaborate on the screenplay; those ironist favorites Scarlett Johansson and Paul Giamatti could replace Sibel Kekilli and Birol Ünel as the mismatched “lovers,” and who would notice? Payne could do his usual job of trying to direct, then the studio—Fox Searchlight, most likely—could fire him and bring in none other than Lars von Trier to re-cut the whole self-indulgent mess.

Now *that* is indie cinema to me. Any takers? — NPT

May 1, 2005