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Sibel wants to kill herself
Fatih Akin takes freedom Head-On

Related Links

Chris Fujiwara talks about Fatih Akinís Gegen die Wand/Head On at 54th Berlin International Film Festival

Peg Aloi reviews another Faith Akin's film, Im Juli/In July

"Live free or die" looks good on a license plate, but as a philosophy, itís hard to survive. Youíre likely to end up like Cahit (a broodingly charismatic Birol Ünel) in Fatih Akinís gleeful, heartbreaking Gegen die Wand/Head-On. Finishing up at his job retrieving empties at a cavernous club, the dissolute, pissed-off, Turkish-born (though barely able to speak his native tongue) barfly takes the edge off by abusing a sometime girlfriend, overturning a heckler on a barstool, and, as Depeche Modeís "I Feel You" wails over the radio, driving his car headlong into a wall.

This aborted bid for freedom or death or both is only the beginning of his problems. He ends up in a neck brace in a psych ward where they donít serve beer and where heís stalked by a deceptively elfin Turkish girl named Sibel (Sibel Kekilli). Her wrists are bandaged from a suicide attempt made in order to escape the suffocating constraints of her traditional Muslim family. Sheíll do anything to escape, even get married. Thatís where Cahit comes in: heís Turkish and not interested in her. "Feel my nose," she says, explaining that her brother Yilmaz broke it when he caught her holding hands with a boy. "Feel my tits," she adds. Cahit, the wild man, defers; heís met his match. "I want to be free and live and love and fuck," she tells him. "And not just with one person."

How can he resist? He shaves off his beard, puts on a suit, meets the future in-laws with his "uncle," his rueful best friend Seref (Güven Kiraç), endures a coke-addled Turkish wedding, and throws the bride out of his apartment when she asks what his dead wifeís name is.

This honeymoon canít last forever. His bohemian squalor notwithstanding, Cahit is a true romantic whoís been destroyed by the death of his beloved spouse. His nihilism comes from shattered ideals. And Sibel, though she spends her wedding night, bridal gown and all, with a complete stranger, is a homemaker at heart. She cleans out the empties from Cahitís sink, takes down the Siouxsie and the Banshees poster, and invests her savings in refurnishing the place. "It looks like a chick bomb went off here," Cahit mutters as Sibel cuts his hair. He docilely obeys her when she orders him to take a shower. His marriage of inconvenience stirs the old passions and nudges him toward the life of respectability and compromise heís abandoned.

This is the point in a more conventional romantic comedy when the odd couple fall in love. And they do here, but the outcome is, if not tragic, then at least catastrophic. Akin deftly balances dark, rollicking comedy with underlying dread as the couplesí unorthodox arrangement rumbles into its inevitable pitfalls. Menace seethes from the suspicion and the primitive attitudes of the patriarchal brutes in Sibelís family. Cahit chafes at the increasing bourgeois trappings of wedded life. The constraints of convention, of social expectations, threaten disaster.

Mostly, though, the danger lurks in the schemeís own subversive intentions. Could Sibelís devil-may-care hedonism conceal a genuine self-destructiveness? (A psychiatrist might diagnose her as a borderline personality.) Could Cahitís indifference heat into possessiveness and rage? Early in their marriage, the two decide to head out to a club where Sibel wants to show off her new navel piercing and her new husband. "Cahit, Iím going to get laid!" she announces cheerily, leaving with a guy from the dance floor. Cahit goes home, trashes the place, then cleans it up. The only evidence of his rampage are the two holes heís put in their wedding picture with a pellet gun.

Some have criticized the film because it doesnít focus on such social issues as the plight of Turkish immigrants or of the working class in general. But Akin is concerned with a more basic social unit, the couple, and more basic still, the warring parts of an ambivalent individual. That ambivalence comes through in the filmís divergent tones, from the exhilaration of high spirits, anarchy, and punk rock to the terror of certain wishes fulfilled.

Sometimes this juggling of the good-natured comedy of Doris Dörrie and the gloom of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose masterpiece Ali: Angst essen Seele auf this film recalls, can be jarring. Especially jolting are the cuts to Turkish musicians on the banks of the Bosporus playing songs of unrequited love as the majestic Blue Mosque peers over their shoulders. In the end, though, Akin probably could not have told this story any other way. The choice that the film poses is not live free or die but live free or love.

Issue Date: March 11 - 17, 2005
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