I discovered Fatih Akin a little late in the piece. However, after my first taste, I ravenously consumed every Akin film that I could find. Head-On (2004), the film that cemented Akin’s status in the international art cinema spotlight, is one of the few cinematic stories that I have watched in the past few years that made me feel as though my heart had been torn out. The German title, Gegen die Wand – which literally translates to “against the wall” (if my computer translator is correct) – is an apt metaphor for the situations that the characters place themselves in. Intoxicatingly passionate, gritty and violent, it is a film that pulsates with energy, unexpected love and devastation.
All my films are very personal. They’re auteur films, in a way. I’m the scriptwriter, I’m producing it, and I’m the director…I reflect the world which is surrounding me—which I put a kid into. I can’t accept the world how it is. There are certain things I don’t want to accept, and I reflect these things. I know that the cinema or art can change things.
We’re all familiar with how love stories work on screen and the mechanics of romance narratives. It’s just that someone (thankfully) forgot to tell Akin. In Head-On, the hackneyed boy-meets-girl story is completely overturned and goes something like this: Boy (Birol Ünel) crashes car into wall in a brutal suicide attempt and is placed under psychiatric care. Girl (Sibel Kekilli) also attempts suicide and is rehabilitated in the same psychiatric facility. They meet, girl asks boy to marry her so that she can escape the constraints of her strict Muslim family. Boy refuses, but later acquiesces. They initially live as roommates before events spiral out of control.
Although I have framed the trajectory of Head-On in the model of a subversive romance, many critics were so overawed by the content that they completely overlooked the fact that it is a love story at the centre of the film. Although Head-On deals with the complexities of identity for people of Turkish descent living in contemporary Germany and negotiates immigrant culture and heritage, the onscreen relationship between Ünel and Kekilli is at the forefront. Having said that Akin’s German Turkish roots undoubtedly inform the film – most notably in the form of a performance by a traditional Turkish orchestra that intercuts the film’s scenes. This unusual cinematic device functions like a Greek chorus and extends the atmosphere of tragedy.
For me, Head-On is an extremely visceral film experience. I was so absorbed in the lives of the characters that I was shattered when the credits rolled and my connection with them was over. At times, the aesthetic look lacks refinement; however, it ultimately matches the vertiginous and out of control mood of Head-On perfectly. From the sequence of Ünel driving his car into a wall, which is accompanied by Depeche Mode’s “I Feel You”, self-destruction and pathos are interwoven into every frame. However, there is something extremely cathartic about going on this journey with the film’s characters. If you think you’re up for it, I suggest that you join them.