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Fatih Akin x 2: Head-On & Crossing the Bridge

PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 7:45 am
by arsaib4
[This wonderful film was reviewed and discussed in length last year by many members of this site. Unfortunately, that thread was among the ones that got deleted. Here's my old post.]

HEAD-ON (Germany-Tur / 2004)

Winner of the Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin film festival, Head-On (Gegen die Wand), is a German-Turkish co-production directed by Fatih Akin, a German-Turk himself. The film depicts the struggles of second generation immigrants in their social and cultural surroundings, while theyre also under pressure to remain faithful to the values of their forefathers.

"Gegen die Wand," the German title of the film literally translates as "Against the Wall, which is where we find our aging protagonist, Cahit (Birol nel), a second generation Turkish immigrant living in Germany. We first see an acrimonious Cahit at an arena after a concert, picking up empty and broken bottles who resemble his own state in many ways. Later on that night, after being thrown out of a bar, he decides to end it all by smashing his car against a brick wall. But this is just the beginning of his journey. After escaping his suicide attempt with just a neck fracture, he ends up meeting Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), a barely legal nymphet who is also at the hospital for similar reasons. Sibel hails from a strict Muslim-family who want her to marry a Turkish man, but since she has grown up in a much different environment, she wants to have as much freedom as possible. After finding out that the person sitting across from her at the hospital is named Cahit, she blurts out, "Are you Turkish? Marry me." A baffled Cahit responds: "I like guys," but that doesnt prevent her from explaining her situation and what she requires of Cahit.

While it takes another suicide attempt from Sibel to convince Cahit of her intentions, he agrees and they end up getting married -- and, for the most part, go about their own ways, as promised. Sibel gets the freedom to sleep with who she wants, whenever she wants, and Cahit continues with his mostly physical relationship with a hairdresser. However, slowly but surely Cahit starts seeing the value of a proper domestic life as things start to change around him. He now has someone who cooks, cleans, and most importantly, cares for him and thus he starts falling for his "wife." For her he is nothing more than a good friend who has saved her life and she simply feels obligated to do her part.

The wide spectrum of emotions that persist early on in the film probably wont look out of place in a Bollywood potboiler, though thats where the film starts to generate its raw and impulsive power. But Akin also punctuates (and grounds) his narrative by having Romany band of Selim Sesler -- featuring Idil Uner as vocalist -- perform traditional Turkish songs in front of a picture-perfect view of Istanbul. "That's like a Brechtian element," the director stated, who was also influenced by the various structural acts in classic Greek plays. Homage aside, this is a stroke of genius from Akin as those musical numbers represent an emotional and psychological bridge for the characters and for the changing moods of the film itself. They continually become more somber in nature, much like the film.

Any culturally hybrid effort needs to institute an understanding of its roots, which Head-On accomplishes quite well. And while doing so, the film serves a sharp rejoinder to the cultural politics displayed by Manoel de Oliveiras A Talking Picture (2003), which blamed the death of Western arts and culture on the fundamental powers from the "East." Here, Akin seems to suggest that the abuse of freedoms easily accessible in the "West" in the form of drugs, sex, alcohol, etc. can make a person just as hollow as fundamentalism. And he doesnt shy from critiquing the machismo and the no-holds-barred attitude Turkish men are known for. Such behavior in the film ends up reopening many wounds that were starting to heal.

But it shouldnt be forgotten that other filmmakers and artists in the recent past have tackled the issues surrounding the political and cultural landscape in Europe, even though in some case they havent done so as successfully as Head-On, and in others their aesthetic was too extreme to be appreciated. (Though a few of the films seem to be championing visions of the new "unified" Europe and its cultural acceptance, while failing to mention the rabid nationalism and the recent rise of ethnic and religious violence in Northern Europe: Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered recently by an Islamic fundamentalist because he made a few pertinent and poignant films about the Islamic culture.)

Akin was inspired by Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu's Amores Perros (2000) (and Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote the Mexican film, is a huge fan of Head-On). The extensive hand-held camera work, fast-paced editing, grainy and saturated film stock, etc. provide the evidence, which adds to the proceedings in both cases. And if Head-On also contains some tonal inconsistencies like the Mexican film, thats primarily because its also emotionally forefront, and not shy about dealing with the issues it so painfully introduces. Perhaps the reason why there's an air of truth about it.

And once the film gathers momentum, the experience it provides is hard to shake. Both Birol nel and Sibel Kekilli turn in great performances. Especially Ms. Kekilli because the only work she had done before was in X-rated films. So its somewhat ironic that late in the film Akin has her character standing in front of a mirror with Cahit, cleansed in more ways than one. While attempting to save each other, they've saved themselves. But Akin's film takes place in a real-world where people don't necessarily end up living happily ever after.


*Along with the Golden Bear, HEAD-ON also won the FIPRESCI prize at the 2004 Berlinale. More acclaim followed in the form of a Best European Film award and a host of prizes from the German academy.

*Available on DVD in the U.S. (Strand Releasing) / U.K. (Soda Pictures).

Re: Fatih Akin x 2: Head-On & Crossing the Bridge

PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 8:11 am
by arsaib4

*A 2006 U.S. Release*

The notion of hybridity appears to be a key element in the work of filmmaker Fatih Akin. If his Golden Bear winning effort, Head-On (2004), emanated from the ruins that resulted from a moral, emotional and historical collision between the "East" and the "West," then his follow-up, Crossing The Bridge: The Sound Of Istanbul, a musical homage to the great city of Istanbul, revisits the remnants to seize and galvanize the excess charge, and to see if the two sides are differentiable at all.

The idea of shooting a documentary about the citys varied music scene originated while Akin was working on Head-On. His composer, Alexander Hacke, the bass player from the legendary West-Berlin industrial band "Einstrzende Neubauten," came to Istanbul to record the Romany choral compositions under the guidance of master clarinetist Selim Sesler, and developed a unique bond with the music and the artists. Akin decided to send Hacke, who he rightfully sees as a bit like "the Dude" from the The Big Lebowski (1998), back to Istanbul as a guide in order to facilitate the audiences exploration.

Early on, while roaming the streets of the Turkish cultural capital with his mobile recording devices, Hacke comes across such electronic, rock and hip-hop based bands as Baba Zula, Orient Expressions, Ceza, Duman and Replickas -- all, in one way or another, indebted to maverick rocker Erkin Koray, the first to play Turkish music while employing modern equipment. The rappers ideologically are much more Tupac than 50 Cents, and strive to have a positive political influence. The music gradually becomes more traditional (and political) as Hacke makes his way towards the outskirts of the city to interview more renowned artists. Kurdish singer Aynur laments the fact that "non-Turkish" music was banned during the 80s; her haunting dirge in a Turkish hammam expresses her anguish.

But ultimately its the Madonna of Turkish pop, Sezen Aksu, who brings the film full circle with her crooning of her famous song "Memories of Istanbul," which serves in sharp contrast to an earlier number about the city by an eccentric DJ. And while doing so, it proves the fact that the city on the Bosporus is just as diverse as its music, which defies all definitions and boundaries.

Grade: B+

*CROSSING THE BRIDGE: THE SOUND OF ISTANBUL premiered at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival (out-of-competition)

*Available on DVD in the U.S. (Strand Releasing) / U.K. (Soda Pictures.)

Re: Fatih Akin x 2: Head-On & Crossing the Bridge

PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 1:31 am
by A
Just curious.
What would your rating of "Head-On" be arsaib?

Re: Fatih Akin x 2: Head-On & Crossing the Bridge

PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 7:45 am
by arsaib4
The same: "B+". Head-On finished high on my secondary '05 list.

Re: Fatih Akin x 2: Head-On & Crossing the Bridge

PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 7:51 am
by hengcs
I guess I like Head On much better ...
Used to have a review on that ...

Re: Fatih Akin x 2: Head-On & Crossing the Bridge

PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 11:46 pm
by A
Yeah, I also liked it better. It`s A- with me, and that means a lot (83 points to be exact). I watched it with some friends at the cinema and we were all blown away. A rewatch confirmed my positive reaction.

A great thing comes at the end of the film during the credits, when Fatih Akin thanks especially Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee and Prince and the Revolution!
My friends who were pretty tired of me raving about Bruce Lee and Prince all of the time (and being the only boxing fan) were in for a surprise - though I immediately thought of a certain person when Maceo Parker appeared in the film.

Re: Fatih Akin x 2: Head-On & Crossing the Bridge

PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2007 6:11 am
by arsaib4
I'm like that teacher you didn't appreciate in high school because you were never quite given the grade you thought you deserved.

Re: Fatih Akin x 2: Head-On & Crossing the Bridge

PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2007 12:51 pm
by A
Yes, I love this grade stuff, because they are so unpredictable, the same as in school. You never know what you get, or why exactly. And if you would take an exam again, you are likely to get a different grade. Too bad society takes this too seriously.
Long live subjectivity!

Re: Fatih Akin x 2: Head-On & Crossing the Bridge

PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2007 6:21 pm
by madhuban
I have seen his 1998 film, Short Sharp Shock and liked it a lot. Unfortunately, that's the only one I've seen.

Re: Fatih Akin x 2: Head-On & Crossing the Bridge

PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2007 8:09 pm
by trevor826
Can't speak for Crossing the Bridge but Head-On was one of the stand-out films of 2005, totally absorbing from start to finish.

I'm sure I wrote a review on site but alas, t'is no more.

Cheers Trev.