Cahit is screwed up, deeply unhappy, very angry and aggressive. One night, driving home drunk after work, he falls asleep at the wheel and crashes into a wall. In hospital he is treated for his whiplash injuries and meets a doctor who encourages him to change his life. And then he meets Sibel, a beautiful girl who shares his suicidal tendencies, and wants to marry im. He old-fashioned Muslim family will not allow her to date, and she thinks a marriage of convenience to a man of suitable Turkish descent is her way out.
Sibel is a little bit unbalanced and initially Cahit turns her down; he comes to feel weirdly responsible for her and perhaps its good to be needed for once. Her parents aren’t exactly thrilled – Cahit is a bit old, a bit poor, and a bit scruffy – but they agree. The wedding, potentially disastrous, is helped on its way by some of Columbia’s finest; the revelation that Cahit was married before causes some tension and Sibel spends her wedding night with another man. But they broker an uneasy peace. Sibel cleans, redecorates, tidies, cooks, and they settle into a fun routine of drug-taking and drinking. She pierces her belly-button, they go out dancing – all the things she couldn’t do living with her parents. But when she starts picking up men, Cahit realises he is jealous, and his self-destructive streak rears its ugly head again…
Head-On is the story of two people who get together for all the wrong reasons – its copyline could almost be ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. It has a lot in common with Betty Blue, another European film about obsessive love and madness, given an extra twist by the addition of religion – whereas Betty was a will-o-the-wisp, Sibel is rooted in her culture and a particular time and place – German Turks/Turkish Germans in the early 21st Century. As with so many immigrants, they are neither one nor the other. Cahit barely speaks Turkish; when he meets Sibel’s family her brother comments on the fact. Sibel’s brother and father rule the roost; she is threatened with violence for having a boyfriend, yet when Cahit sits with the men they are quite happy to talk about sleeping with prostitutes. The double standard of this most patriarchal of sub-cultures are deconstructed through Sibel – she just wants the same freedoms that the men take for granted. And yet the irony is that she can only be free by marrying.
Sibel’s liveliness, as she revels in her new-found freedom, is initially exactly what Cahit needs. She brings him out of his funk, drags him out dancing, and gives him a new lease of life. But its that same liveliness and passion that destroys them both, a flame that burns so brightly that its dangerous. Their story is similarly both vibrant and dark, with a deeply nihilistic streak running through it. Bruno Unel is excellent as Cahit, all jowls and leather and shaggy, greying hair and post-punk attitude. Sibel Kikulli, who was apparently discovered in a shopping mall, is also very good as Sibel. Both characters are very real and quite maddening; Sibel in particular is astonishingly selfish and bratty, proving what a fine line it is between a force of nature and a total loony.
The first German film to win a Golden Bear in Berlin in eighteen years, Head-On is powerful and painful and well worth watching.
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