by Susan Green
posted August 1, 2008 10:00 AM
The intensity gives way to only brief glimpses of humor or tenderness in "Head-On," as much a cautionary tale about obsession as it is a sociological commentary on the clash of cultures. Fatih Akin's seamless film, which earned a Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlinale, never settles for the ordinary. The 40-year-old Cahit (a mesmerizing Birol Unel) appears to be a hopeless alcoholic bent on killing himself with booze. But unlike Nicolas Cage's over-the-top drunk in "Leaving Las Vegas," this long-haired Turkish immigrant living in Hamburg slowly and subtly peels away layers of anguish.
When an inebriated Cahit smashes his car into a brick wall, he survives but winds up in a mental hospital. His self-pity is interrupted by Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), a presumably suicidal patient who immediately proposes to him. There's plenty of method to her madness. A secret hedonist, she wants to escape the suffocating Middle Eastern code of behavior that her partially assimilated family insists a Muslim girl must follow. If she continues carousing, Sibel risks an honor killing at the hands of her older brother. The perfect solution might be a marriage of convenience to a Turk, who happens to be twice her age, with no romantic or carnal notions about the arrangement. And a woman is always her husband's property in the Old World way of thinking, so the in-laws will butt out.
In return for a loveless wedding, Sibel promises to keep Cahit in beer. At first, the situation seems ideal. She goes out dancing every night and sleeps with a succession of strangers. He drinks and engages in periodic sex with Maren (Catrin Striebeck), a hairdresser who has known him for some time. Naturally, everything changes. That's when the wrenching consequences of their illusions catch up with these tormented creatures. Starring Birol Unel, Sibel Kekilli, Catrin Striebeck, Guven Kirac, Cem Akin, Aysel Iscan, Demir Gokgol and Stefan Gebelhoff. Directed and written by Fatih Akin. Produced by Ralph Schwingel and Stefan Schubert. A Strand release. Drama. German- and Turkish-language; subtitled. Rated R for strong graphic sexuality, pervasive language, some brutal violence and drug content. Running time: 123 min