Sunday, June 28, 2015

Movie – Head-On (2004)

Head-On is a German film, but it’s about the second generation of Turkish immigrants to that country and how they are caught between the older traditions and the new lives available to them as German citizens.  The focus is on two such people – Cahit (Birol Unel) and Sibel (Sibel Kekilli) – who are husband and wife…sort of.  This film probably contains the best illustration I have ever seen of the phrase “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.”

Cahit is a man around 40 years old.  He makes a living picking up bottles in a bar after it closes.  Needless to say, this isn’t something he takes pride in.  He spends much of his free time getting drunk, and after being thrown out of a bar one night he drives his car head-on into a wall.  It may have been a suicide attempt or it may have been him just not caring, but either way he wakes up in a rehabilitation center that specializes in suicidal people.

Not long after he wakes up he spots Sibel in a waiting room.  She seems interested in him for some reason.  When he comes out of his therapy session she asks him to marry her.  He thinks she’s crazy, and that’s not a bad hypothesis considering where he is.  He blows her off.  She tracks him down and once again asks him to marry her.  She tells him she has to get away from her family and the only way she can do that is by marrying a Turkish man.  Her family is very conservative and will not accept a woman being on her own, nor marrying anyone other than a man from the same background.  She tells Cahit that they will be roommates, not a real husband and wife.  She will pay all the expenses.  Cahit agrees even though his friend tells him he’s crazy.

Cahit isn’t exactly a catch, so he and Sibel do their best to improve upon his appearance.  They also lie and say he owns a bar, rather than just having a menial job at one.  Sibel’s father and brother are not happy about her wanting to get married.  They are used to controlling everything about her life.  Sibel’s mother isn’t happy with the age difference between the two.  (Sibel is in her 20s.)  After meeting all of them Cahit starts to understand why Sibel had her own suicide attempt.  Eventually her family agrees and Cahit and Sibel are married.

Sibel takes advantage of her new freedom and uses it to go out partying.  Cahit goes with her sometimes, but they always end up spending the night with someone else.  Cahit has a somewhat steady lover, and Sibel just picks up whatever man catches her fancy.  Time passes and Cahit and Sibel start to learn about the other.  Each starts to make some attempts to treat each other better, but then one of them will do something that will send the other into a rage.

Eventually each of them has feelings for the other, and those feelings might even be love.  Because of their situation, each is very reluctant to admit that to the other.  Making things worse is the fact that Sibel wants to not have sex with Cahit because then they will have consummated the marriage and will be husband and wife for real.  That scares her.  One night Cahit can’t take it anymore and gets jealous when Sibel is being picked up by a former boyfriend.  Cahit fights with him and accidentally kills him.  In her distress Sibel cuts her arm wide open.

Cahit ends up going to jail, and although Sibel lives, her conservative father disowns her and her bordering-on-psychotic brother determines he has to kill her to return the family to honor.  When she gets out of the hospital he is waiting for her. Sibel sees him and literally runs for her life.

The movie now shifts to Istanbul, Turkey.  Sibel has moved there to be safe from her brother.  She has still not recovered from that, nor from being apart from Cahit.  She realizes how much she misses him.  She starts to fall back into destructive behavior, to the point that it might get her killed.  In the meantime, Cahit eventually gets out of jail and is determined to go to Istanbul to find her and win her back.  Will he succeed?

Both Birol Unel as Cahit and Sibel Kekilli as Sibel do fantastic jobs in their roles.  They each received a number of nominations and wins for their performances.  They carry this movie on their backs.  I can’t imagine anyone else in either role.  And the movie itself also received any number of nominations and wins.  It was the first German film in 17 years to win the Golden Lion at the Berlin Film Festival.

Showing that the tabloid press are pretty much a bunch of shits the whole world over, the German version of them waited until right before a huge awards ceremony to start running stories about how Kekilli had starred in about two dozen adult films prior to making her mainstream debut in this one.  This was true, but presented in as negative a way as possible.  Kekilli still ended up winning Best Actress at that particular awards show, but there was some fallout afterwards.  It took her six more years and seven more films before she returned to the awards podium to receive her second Best Actress award for her performance in 2010’s When We Leave (aka Die Fremd).  She is probably best known now for having played Shae on the TV show Game of Thrones for four seasons.

Head-On is a powerful, realistic take on two troubled people in and out of a relationship.  It’s certainly not a feel good film, but it’s not one that will make you want to kill yourself afterwards, either.  I feel it is very well done and is about as honest as it can be.  Unless you have strong reservations to seeing this because of the subject matter then I highly recommend it.

Chip’s Rating:  4 out of 5 stars


  1. I agree with you that this is a hard one to watch. It is a hell of a good film, though, and it's one that I recommend without much reservation.

    I've had this described to me as satisfying, but unhappy. I think that's pretty apt.

  2. That is a good description of it. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. I had an odd experiences with Head-On, I initially hated the characters and turned it off, but on second viewing a few years later I began to see it for what it is, a powerful story with impressive performances. I liked how it was critical of the Turkish family values. I now rank it in my top 10 of 2004, and would also recommend Fatih Akin's 2008 film The Edge of Heaven.

    1. I agree that the characters are not really intended to be likable. That often hurts my enjoyment of a movie, but I think in this case they were presented with such a raw honesty that I felt that was the way they were supposed to be presented.

      Thanks for the tip on the other movie.