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Head-On (Gegen Die Wand)

The Most Romantic Dysfunctional Relationship Ever

There are very few times in my life where I have been left speechless. The closing of the outstanding and memorable German/Turkish film Head-On (Gegen Die Wand) was one of those rare moments. Even now, as I sit here writing this review, I'm just not quite sure what to write. Can I just say that it's freakin' amazing and leave it at that? Probably not (I don't get paid for being succinct).

Written and directed with astonishing candor by Fatih Akin, Head-On is essentially a love story. There have been all kinds of marketing hype extolling the film to be about identity and cultural clashes and the Turkish immigrant experience in Germany (blah blah blah), but that's not what it's really about. When you strip the movie down, much like the characters themselves who are exposed right down to the bone, this is a love story about two very damaged people, and it has very little to do with either race or culture.

Cahit (a superb and indelible Birol Ünel) has serious issues. Sibel (the gorgeous as well as talented Sibel Kekilli) also has serious issues. The two meet while recovering from suicide attempts at a mental institute. Sibel needs to get married (to someone of Turkish descent) so that she can get away from her stifling and controlling conservative Muslim family, so she asks Cahit to marry her. The two then enter into a marriage of convenience unlike any other.

Their relationship is at once brutish and tender, lovely and ugly. Nothing is simple in this film and that is what makes it so human. In one scene, which illustrates this quite nicely, Sibel cooks an adoring Cahit a traditional Turkish meal (most likely the first home-cooked meal he's had in years) and the two share the meal like genial roommates that is until Sibel mentions that her mother was inquiring into grandchildren. Cahit thinks it's a great opportunity to have sex and take their fake relationship to the next level, but Sibel believes it as the perfect way to get divorced and out of the sham marriage. The emotionally stunted and hurt Cahit then violently storms out shattering the peaceful moment.

Head-On has great appeal and, for some reason I can't yet quite figure out, charm. Indeed, it has won major accolades worldwide and has won major awards in Germany; it has won five Lolas (the German equivalent of the Academy Awards, but obviously with a lot better taste and a cooler name) for Best Film, Best Actor (Ünel), Best Actress (Kekilli), Best Director (Akin) and Best Cinematography (Rainer Klausmann).

The only criticism is concerning the odd musical interludes that, while beautifully rendered by Idil Üner and her accompanying musicians, stall the pace of the film. While director Akin meant to use these segments as organizing devices for the movement of plot (inspired from "classical stage tragedies"), they disrupt the experience more than anything else, casting a surreal light onto a very much unadulterated and visceral film.

As the title suggests, this movie will hit you head-on with no holds barred. Head-On is the perfect, albeit unconventional, Valentine's Day movie for the "romantic" in all of us.

Rating: 5 out of 5