Head On (2004)

Dir. Fatih Akin
Starring: Birol Unel, Sibel Kekilli, etc.
71/100

No to Larri. I also wouldn’t recommend this to Marc, Don or Joel (although they might think this is OK). I’m not sure about Mitchell, Penny, Grace, Kevin and Chris. I think they would find something interesting in this, but I’m not sure about their final reaction.

**
This is German/Turkish film centerting around Turkish characters who live in Germany. Sibel (Kekilli)wants to sew her wild oats, but she lives with a very restrictive (maybe oppressive) family. She meets Cahit and suggests they get married so she can leave her family and have her freedom. Cahit is really messed up personally, and he thinks the idea is crazy and wants no part of it. But certain incidents convey to Cahit how desperate she is, and he feels sorry for her. So he agrees.

Think of a mash-up between Green Card and Leaving Las Vegas (although the male lead is more similar to Robert Duvall’s character in Tender Mercies, then Nicholas Cage’s in LLV) and you get an idea of the film. The tone pulls more towards LLV than GC, for what it’s worth.

The performances and chemistry between the two leads were good–and the filmmakers handle their relationship well.

I also want to mention the editing in this film, particularly the decisions of how much to leave in or cut out. Like Tender Mercies, this film bypasses–or fast-forwards through time, but this is done skillfully preventing the movie for dragging, while still giving you enough information for the movie to work. I thought this was well-done and lead to a well-paced film.

On a sidenote, I loved the music of the musical interludes.

***
I got into this film and felt really excited as it moved a long. One question I had: how will he (or they) transition to falling in love. At some point, it becomes obvious that Cahit starts having feelings for her, but I wanted to see how the film handled this. (They did a decent job.)

Unfortunately, the film started losing me once Cahit is sent to prison and Sibel goes to Istanbul. I’m not sure if the film intentionally abandons the relationship and starts becoming more thematic movie, centering on a comparison between Germany and Turkey. If so, I’m still realing from that transition.

This seems like a plausible theory because I don’t have another explanation for the following events. The relationship goes nowhere–in terms of a compelling drama.

I haven’t really thought deeply about the film, and I’m not sure what to make of the Istanbul section, including the ending. What was the purpose and point of these scenes?

I can appreciate a tragic ending, but this wasn’t satisfying as a tragedy. A part of me feels the ending would have been more tragic and sad if their feelings had just dissipated (which it seemed to when the reunited. Arlyn, did you get the same impression?).

If the film is more about Turkey and Germany or Turkish cluture versus German culture, then I’m going to have to really reassess the film. But I really started to like and care about the characters and their relationship, so if the film tried to move away from them, I got left behind, too.

9 Responses to “Head On (2004)”


  1. Arlyn

    I’m a fan of Sibel Kekilli. She’s also in When We Leave, where she pretty much played the same character as in Head-On. I still like her though. And of course I loved Birol Unel who played Cahit.

    I’d agree that it does lean more towards LLV but LLV was darker and more heart breaking. I think it took me an entire week to rid my system of LLV.

    On a sidenote, I loved the music of the musical interludes.

    Akin made a documentary called Crossing the Bridge about music in Istanbul. I’ve also paid attention to the music in his movies. You can’t help notice this about him.

    I’m not sure what to make of the Istanbul section.

    From what I remember wasn’t the ending more tragic because of this part?

    I can appreciate a tragic ending, but this wasn’t satisfying as a tragedy. A part of me feels the ending would have been more tragic and sad if their feelings had just dissipated (which it seemed to when the reunited. Arlyn, did you get the same impression?).

    I need to watch it again. I thought one of the character’s feelings had dissipated. I felt the tragedy in Sibel’s decision in the end.

    In search of his identity, I think Akin will always make references between the land of his birth (Germany) and his motherland (Turkey).

    I am in flux, back and forth, on the bridge. I’ve noticed that I still have my largest audience in Germany, but also a new one in Turkey. And I’ve started to think for both markets. What I write should work here—but also over there. In my experience, if a film works in these two cultures, I can be fairly sure that it will be understood in France or Asia or Mexico. My two places of socialization, Germany and Turkey, represent globalization, so to speak: Whoever understands both systems understands the worldwide contexts. Thus, what I make becomes world cinema.” ~Fatih Akin

    I’d rate this just a little higher but I’m biased because Fatih Akin is my husband. Also, I loved the characters. For me, Head-On is about a love story that was almost perfect. It’s my favorite film by Akin.

    95/100

  2. Reid

    And of course I loved Birol Unel who played Cahit.

    I liked him, too–although I must say that he looked a lot like Chick Corea. (When he cut his hair and came out of prison, he kinda looked like Anthony Bourdain, too. 🙂

    I’d agree that it does lean more towards LLV but LLV was darker and more heart breaking.

    Right, and I liked that. It was also moving and beautiful in a way, too.

    Akin made a documentary called Crossing the Bridge about music in Istanbul. I’ve also paid attention to the music in his movies. You can’t help notice this about him.

    I recall that he made a film about a German rock group, too, but I could be wrong about that. Anyway, I liked practically all the music in the film.

    From what I remember wasn’t the ending more tragic because of this part?

    I need to watch it again. I thought one of the character’s feelings had dissipated. I felt the tragedy in Sibel’s decision in the end.

    Well, Sibel first gets a job with her cousin. She moves out and lives with a bartender who rapes her. She then gets beaten up by these thugs at night. Fast-forward to Cahit’s release from prison. Sibel is married, has a daughter and she seems to be leaving quite comfortably. To me, this took away the momentum of the relationship and seems to shift away from the relationship to Sibel in Istanbul. I can’t think of the purpose for these scenes. It’s almost like he wants to present the “German world” and the “Turkish world”–as your quote alludes to. So it’s almost like the film isn’t about the relationship, but about (Akin) being caught between these two worlds/cultures. So maybe Sibel choosing her family signifies a kind of siding with the Turkish culture. (Then again, Cahit is catching the bus to return to his birthplace in Turkey, so it’s not like he was planning to return to Germany.)

    To me, the ending felt a little flat–it wasn’t crushing. (Initially, I thought Sibel didn’t have a choice about leaving because her husband returned from a trip–and I got the sense he wasn’t supposed to return. But that doesn’t seem right.)

    Part of the reason the ending wasn’t devasting was the lack of passion in their first encounter. It’s like they’re going through the motions–especially Sibel. This is sad in a way, but it lacked umph for some reason. (Partly because Sibel making a new life in Turkey.)

    The quote makes sense based on the two films I’ve seen.

    I’d rate this just a little higher but I’m biased because Fatih Akin is my husband.

    You’re joking, right?

  3. Arlyn

    You’re joking, right?

    I’m using full disclosure since I can’t be objective about this movie. Curious if you could be if you were a big admirer of someone’s films?

    Part of the reason the ending wasn’t devasting was the lack of passion in their first encounter. It’s like they’re going through the motions–especially Sibel. This is sad in a way, but it lacked umph for some reason.

    I felt the passion though. Things have definitely changed with her new family but she still loves him. He’ll never know how much.

  4. Reid

    Wait, so you’re married to Fatih Akin, or was the husband comment just a way of saying you really admire him? (Sorry, if I’m an idiot, but on the internet, I’m just not sure about these things.)

    If your married to him, then I can definitely understand how you can’t be objective. I wouldn’t be, too. If you’re saying you really love him as a director and love many, if not all, of his films, then I understand how that can be tough to be objective. For example, I love Terrence Malick and it was painful to admit that Tree of Life wasn’t so great as I would have liked. (Actually, reassessing his films, I have to say that some of them are not as great as I first thought. Ooo, that was painful.)

    I felt the passion though. Things have definitely changed with her new family but she still loves him. He’ll never know how much.

    It wasn’t just the lack of passion, but the segment with Sibel in Istanbul just seemed to take the steam out of the film and move it away from the relationship. I was thinking about this, and I developed a theory about the film. Let me see what you think.

    I mentioned the possibility that the film is more about Germany-Turkey. Sibil wants to leave her family because they’re too restrictive. The family represents Turkey. So when she breaks away and gains her freedom–her lifestyle represents Germany. Here, we get scenes of the German nightlife as well as German or Western music.

    Now, when she goes to Istanbul, she first works for her cousin, but she wants to resume her German lifestyle–drugs, clubbing, etc. As she breaks away from her cousin (rejecting Turkey), she gets into trouble–getting raped and almost killed.

    But at some point, she embraces Turkey–she marries presumably someone Turkish, has a child and a happy–more conservative–life.

    When Cahit returns they try to resume their (German) life, but it doesn’t quite work and Sibel decides to choose her family (Turkey). Cahit wants to return to his birthplace. This move, along with Sibil’s choice, might suggest that Turkey represents a place to find one’s self–a place of salvation for German Turks. They have to return home. But Sibil can’t leave with Cahit to his birthplace because their relationship and life together represent Germany.

    I’m not completely sold on this reading, but I thought I’d throw it out there. If this is correct, though, the film wouldn’t be about love or a love story (which would be disappointing because I liked the love story).

  5. Arlyn

    Yes, that was my way of saying I really admire him. 🙂 More later.

  6. Arlyn

    (Actually, reassessing his films, I have to say that some of them are not as great as I first thought. Ooo, that was painful.)

    Ooh that was interesting to hear about Malick.

    This move, along with Sibil’s choice, might suggest that Turkey represents a place to find one’s self–a place of salvation for German Turks.

    I’d agree on this.

    But the segment on Istanbul had to be there because Sibel had to leave her “home” in Germany after Cahit went to jail. She was never happy with her family. And now she was an embarrassment to her parents and her family’s name. The distance from Cahit, after moving to Istanbul, made it more unbearable.

    But Sibil can’t leave with Cahit to his birthplace because their relationship and life together represent Germany.

    Yes, I’d agree with this too.

    Like the director, Akin, these characters, Cahit and Sibel, are also in search of their identities. Perhaps the love story lies in the characters finding home, finally, and being at peace with this. Maybe even a sonnet to Turkey and an elegy to Germany. I see your theory on the film being more about Germany-Turkey and even then I still see a love story.

  7. Reid

    But the segment on Istanbul had to be there because Sibel had to leave her “home” in Germany after Cahit went to jail. She was never happy with her family. And now she was an embarrassment to her parents and her family’s name. The distance from Cahit, after moving to Istanbul, made it more unbearable.

    I understand the reasons Sibil goes to Turkey, but Akin, as the filmmaker, wasn’t limited to that option, right? For example, he could have written in a friend that lived in another part of Germany; Cahit’s “uncle” might have had a relative she could stay with; Cahit couldn’t have killed himself, etc. Granted, some of these options may not have worked or might have been difficult, but I’m only mentioning these to make a point.

    Moreover, Akin didn’t have to spend as much time on Sibel in Isantbul–showing the details that he did–but obviously he had a reason for doing so. I just think this segment disrupted everything prior to this segment–it was almost like a different film. Akin could have fast-forwarded through Cahit’s prison sentence, too.

    I see your theory on the film being more about Germany-Turkey and even then I still see a love story.

    Meaning, the love story about Germany and Turkey? Perhaps. I might have to reorient my expectations because I really got involved the love story between Cahit and Sibel, and I would have preferred if the film kept the focus on them and not went into the German-Turkey thing (if that reading is correct).

  8. Arlyn

    Personally, remaining in Germany would have be more limiting. Because it’s Akin, Istanbul was inevitable.

    Meaning, the love story about Germany and Turkey?

    Yes, I see the struggle for finding home and identity between two countries as part of the love story that Akin wants to tell, in addition to the love story between Cahit and Sibel.

    When Akin eventually finds peace with his identity, perhaps there’ll be less of the disruption you mentioned. I think he had to show Istanbul for a lot of reasons relating to his search for that sense of place.

  9. Reid

    Personally, remaining in Germany would have be more limiting. Because it’s Akin, Istanbul was inevitable.

    You may be right. I’m just suggesting that the narrative, up to that point, didn’t dictate that Sibel had to go to Istanbul. That’s my only point.

    When Akin eventually finds peace with his identity, perhaps there’ll be less of the disruption you mentioned.

    To be fair to the film, maybe my expectations (wanting the film to be mainly about a love story) are getting in the way. Or maybe we’re not understanding the film well. On the other hand, maybe other people don’t think the Istanbul section kills the momentum of the love story.

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