Head-On: The Cinema of Fatih Akin

The riveting passionate films of Fatih Akin, the German-Turkish director of such powerful cinematic works as Head-On (2003), Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005), The Edge of Heaven (2007), and Soul Kitchen (2009), are so visceral and uniquely fascinating in their depiction of the gritty life and love of people torn between two cultures, that it’s as spellbinding as watching a slow motion car crash.

In fact, his break-through award winning film Head-On opens with a car crashing into a brick wall as a tormented young Turkish man, Cahit, living in Germany, tries to commit suicide. But when he meets a Turkish girl, Sibel, while recovering in a rehab clinic, who’s as desperate and depressed as he is, the collision of passionate personalities is both shocking and mesmerizing. 

This is a daring unflinching look at life through the eyes of two head-strong personalities desperately looking for love in all the wrong places. Fatih’s movies are like documentaries about good people in bad situations, who have the perseverance to, not only survive, but thrive. When I first saw Head-On I was struck by the raw and realistic performances of the characters. 

Angry and alone after losing his wife, the heart-broken Cahit has become an alcoholic wreck on a downward spiral who has given up on life. Sibel, played by the gorgeous Sibel Kekilli, who can be seen in the HBO miniseries Game of Thrones, wants Cahit to marry her in order to gain freedom from her strict traditional Muslim parents. 

This gem is both tender and abrasive as an unconventional but uncompromising love story about finding love when you least expect it in a dark ugly world of isolation and despair that doesn’t conform to any Hollywood convention.

Cahit reluctantly agrees to go along with Sibel’s plan to arrange a fake marriage for the benefit of her parents so that she can finally leave home and live like other German women and go to parties where she can meet men she likes. But their fake living arrangement soon becomes more serious as they unexpectedly develop feelings for each other.

Sometimes disturbing but never disappointing, you must experience this film to believe it. Head-On has won many awards, including the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and Best Film and the Audience award at the European Film Festival. 

On a lighter note, Soul Kitchen (2009) is a hilarious culinary comedy about a Greek restaurant owner in Germany, who wants to give his greasy spoon a makeover to draw in a more sophisticated clientele. It has all the same gritty characters and cultural clashes as his other films, but it’s so much fun to see these charming desperate, down-and-out people enjoying a light-hearted comedy. 

What I love about Fatih’s films are the beautiful, spirited Turkish heroines, and the cross-cultural music and traditions in his stories. His movies start out with characters in the most hopeless, and self-destructive situations and you cringe and wonder at what could be the cause of such despair. Then he slowly reveals the humanity, love and compassion just under the surface, waiting for the right circumstances to bloom. At that moment you gain new respect for people and life. 

Fatih Akin’s latest project is a documentary called Garbage in the Garden of Eden (2012), which is about a gorgeous, picturesque sea side village community on the Black Sea that its citizens are fighting to protect from the Turkish Government’s plans to turn it into a garbage dump. 



Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) said...

How did you watch these films --- movie theater (theatre since you're Canadian;-), rental company? Were they subtitled? Does Fatih Akin produce his films in Turkey? I admit I'm confused about Turkey. I know they prided themselves on their secular government, but then read that their current leader has been trying to introduce a more Islamist ethos. Do you know if this has at all impacted the freedom of people like Akin to work there?

JP said...

Thank you Suzanne for your interest. Yes these films are all available to rent or buy on DVD which is how I discovered them and yes they are in German with English subtitles.

Fatih is a German of Turkish descent and lives and works in Germany. His movies are about Turks living in Germany and their struggle with the two cultures.

There are conservative Islamic Turks like Sibel's parents living in Germany and also there are secular Turks who have adopted a more western life style like Cahit.

If you see his films you will get a better understanding of their struggles.

I'm not sure how the political situation in Turkey has affected filmmakers like Fatih but I would imagine that with German support he will still be able to make films there.