Gegen die Wand (translates as ‘Against the Wall’) by Fatih Akin, a winner of the Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival – critically acclaimed worldwide for its gritty portrayal of the relationship between two Turkish immigrants in Germany. Fatih Akin, a German born Turkish originated film director, has established himself as a promising young director whose films concentrate on the relationships among people of different national and cultural backgrounds in ethnically diverse environments.
This brilliantly edgy film, pulsates with ‘raw energy’, sex, drugs and frighteningly intense chemistry between its protagonists, and is set in an exasperatingly hectic world of raw emotions and extreme self-destructiveness, which portrays generational, cultural/ideological and religious conflicts faced by rebellious Turkish Youth who grew up in a far more liberal educational environment and who are restless to fashion their own identity (wholly a different world from their parents’ Islamic Turkish identity) through assimilating lifestyle of German urban culture – beer drinking, drugs, club-crawling, rock music, reckless sexual escapades.
The film is about a cringingly intense and tempestuous romantic adventure between two desperate Turkish immigrants in Germany : Cahit (a 40-something, intentionally self-destructing, impulsive, and reckless man who snorts coke, thrives on alcohol and drugs, who has no ostensible ties to his Turkish past…the film opens loud and ugly with inebriated Cahit trying to kill himself by crashing his beaten vehicle straight at full speed into a wall – Depeche Mode’s “I Feel You’ as the backdrop score) and Sibel (unbelievably cute, erratic, extreme, sexy young woman with suicidal instincts) who trapped between her individual longings and the restrictions placed upon her by her close-knit traditional family.
Cahit – ravishingly energetic a blend of Kurt Cobain-Jim Morrison archetypes, raw, bitter and sour, drunk most of the time, makes his living at a club by collecting empty glasses and bottles that litter the floor after concerts, and is a reckless spirit who, at a mere provocation, could plunge into a frenzy of brutal self-destruction. Sibel – An endearingly innocent looking young woman with a huge appetite for sexual adventures, who always tries to escape her orthodox family’s oppressing / restricting Islamic value system.
Cahit’s reckless crash into the wall lands him in a suicide rehab clinic, where he is chased by Sibel, who also survives a botched suicide attempt. Cahit barely acknowledges her in their first ever collision, when Sibel almost provokes him to marry her, as she needs a legitimate escape from her overbearingly restrictive family. When she asks him again to marry her, he claims he is a gay. But, he, reluctantly yields to Sibel, who is exhaustingly persistent, and her rather appealing a proposition of a loveless and sexless marriage of convenience – as a roommate she would pay half the rent, do the dishes, cook, clean & scrub his filthy flat, and would explore all the pleasures of sexual adventure freely, without bothering him much. Her sexual escapades begin on their wedding night itself, when Cahit throws her out during an argument. The next morning, Sibel, still in her wedding gown, walking across the street, beaming with a sense of abandonment, over a successful escapade strikes an image of youthful profligacy – and so commences an endless orgy of hedonism. Sibel drunk on freedom, enjoys Hamburg’s nightlife/endless sexual opportunities, acquires taste for drugs, sleeps with a different guy every night, and gets more comfortable with Cahit, almost like a close friend. Yet, it does not take them long to realize the growing fondness and love/affection for each other.
Tragedy strikes their relationship, which is transforming from something sprung out of convenience to a good old love story, when Cahit attacks and unintentionally kills one of Sibel’s one-night-stands who made sexually demeaning comments about Sibel. Cahit goes to jail, Sibel promises to wait for him, flees to Istanbul to escape the wrath of her family, who want her dead for her immoral behaviour. She goes to Istanbul, efforts to reconstruct her life – which means, to forget every sense of belonging, to her family, to her ‘new family’ with Cahit, and even to the fashionable & desire-evoking exhibitionism of femininity. She tries to re-create her life of abandonment in Hamburg with drugs and sex, when she realises she is dedicating her life to work. But the drug reawakens all her unmitigated grief, and brings her almost to physical and psychological destruction…she nearly gets stabbed to death in the street. Soon after, she gives up her erratic & wayward lifestyle and settles for an ordinary life. Sibel and Cahit eventually consummate their marriage, when Cahit comes looking for her in Istanbul, but the sobered Cahit does not indulge in any self-destructive act even when the dutiful Sibel does not leave with him and her daughter…but we are not sure she stays back with her familial obligations, with her new partner – in the film, we do not see her partner, though we listen to his playing with the baby.
‘If you cant change the world, then change your world’ – Sibel and Cahit eventually change, not their world, but their surroundings/milieu by returning to their home culture, which is not a conscious decision, but a forced choice. Cahit leaves Istanbul to go to Mersin, his home town, his place of origin, as the place where he possibly hopes to find his roots and thus putting an end to his rootless existence. Cahit and Sibel were desperate to break free of their repressive culture, they assimilated into the dominant German culture, but they failed to create happiness for selves in that world. Both Ünel and Kekilli inhabit their characters with frightening intensity and delivered remarkable performances.
Says Fatih Akin, “we look at Germany through our family’s perspective as a Turk and we look at Turkey as a German,….Therefore, we do contain both identities; as a film maker, it is a rare chance for me to be able to grasp both cultures from inside; but at the same time, it also brings a sense of not belonging to anywhere. . . .”
Head On is a film with a Multiple identity…The orchestra with Istanbul’s skyline as the backdrop runs like a Punctuation – a contradictory element in the film, thus dividing it into different chapters of a story whose destiny is already written…what one could observe the contrast between Turkey and Germany – Turkey reflecting the softer side : feminine, sentiment, relationships, a state of immobility, Tradition, and in harmony with the nature, while Germany presenting the opposite : masculine, ruggedness, violence, darkness, modernism, reality, streets, contemporary music (post-punk culture)
Head On is tragic, exhilarating and elusive…there are a few key sequences that mark the characters’ emotional progression : when Cahit’s psychiatrist quotes a song’s verse ‘If you can’t change the world, change your world’, when Cahit and Sibel cry out the slogan ‘Punk is not dead’ showing the uncontainable joy for the chaotic freedom of their marriage, and when Cahit in Istanbul shares his feelings for Sibel with her cousin.
NYTIMES Movie review….Cahit is as haunted by the past as Sibel is plagued by the present. Both are slaves to loves: he of heartbreak, she of her father and his God. For his troubles, Cahit wears the mantle of tragic hero, a role the charismatic Mr. Unel embraces with exuberant, tangible heat. Sibel, meanwhile, embodies the film’s divided conscience. Split between two cultures, yearning for life and for death, the character is struggling to declare not just her independence, but her very being.