Fatih Akin's thrilling drama "Head-On" starts out loud and ugly. 40-year-old Turkish-German Cahit (Birol Unell) is intentionally self-destructing. He snorts coke, drinks himself sick, and picks a nasty fight in a dark, dirty punk bar. He drives his car straight into a concrete wall. These opening scenes are an assault to the senses.
Cahit's accident lands him in a mental institution where he meets beautiful, young Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), also Turkish-German, also the survivor of a botched suicide attempt. Otherwise, Sibel knows nothing about him. "You should marry me," she says as a way of introduction, pulling on his sleeve. Cahit barely acknowledges the gorgeous girl. But Sibel needs a legitimate escape from her overbearing family, and she pursues Cahit until he relents.
Fatih Akin's remarkable film is many things: an exploration of Turkish culture in Germany, a comedy, a tragedy, and above all, a romance. In a relationship that begins from convenience, Sibel and Cahit's fall towards each other happens slowly and inevitably, while always managing to surprise. Sibel Kekilli, in her feature film debut, gives a heart-breaking performance. Erratic, vibrant, extreme, occasionally out of her mind, Sibel is a woman who can change a man. We watch the transformation take place in rootless Cahit. Sibel also transforms: in her unconventional marriage, she reveals a seemingly unlimited capacity for joyand later, for unmitigated grief.
Akin's look into Turkish culture and its assimilation into German society is brilliantly handled. A punk and an anarchist, Cahit has no ostensible ties to his Turkish past, but Sibel belongs to a close-knit, traditional Turkish family. While convincing him to marry, she runs Cahit's finger down her nose; the prominent bump, she explains, is the result of her older brother's reaction to her holding hands with a boyfriend. A free-thinking woman, Sibel has no freedom within her family. As a couple in Germany, Cahit and Sibel exist on the fringe of society.
In an earlier film, Akin's romantic comedy "In July," a more traditional German couple travels to Istanbul. Sibel and Cahit also make this journey, but the gloss has come off. Their story builds which such force that the fate of these unlikely heroes truly matters. Head-On projects the immediacy of real life; these characters are intimately exposed, feelings of both genuine pleasure and pain bared wide open on the screen. "Head-On" is positively gripping.
"Head-On" won the Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival and Best European Film of 2004.