Head-On / Gegen die Wand (18)

Written and Directed by Fatih Akin
Screening at FACT from 11th-17th March 2005

Reviewed by Adam Ford

There are quite a few films about exiles struggling to establish their own identity in a foreign land, but not many have quite the savage nihilism of Head-On. As two Turkish immigrants search for freedom and meaning in the bars and back streets of Hamburg, they are drawn into an entanglement that will define their lives.

Couples who meet in mental institutions are never going to have the most stable of relationships, but that’s exactly where the respective worlds of Cahit (Birol Ünel) and Sibel (Sibel Güner) collide. He is in his late thirties, and looks as though he hasn’t bothered to wash himself since his wife died, whenever that was. She is about fifteen years younger and is trying to escape her devoutly Muslim family. They agree to a marriage of convenience, she cleans his flat and cooks his dinner whilst he provides her ticket out of her cultural background. But of course, things are rarely that simple, and they fall in love with a violent intensity matched only by the dark and brooding soundtrack.

Head-On is nothing if not impassioned, as the two self-hating, self-destructive ‘heroes’ spiral towards their inevitable fate. The tide of depravity, despair and desolation is occasionally broken-up by the odd lightly comic moment and some Turkish love songs, but this only serves to throw sharper relief on the agony of the lovers. Having said all that, the film does run out of energy two thirds of the way through, before fizzling out disappointingly, but then life can be like that.