View Full Version : Head On (aka Gegen die Wand) (Germany) (2004)

11-14-2004, 10:15 PM
The official website is

-- Earlier in the year, at Berlin Film Festival, it won the Golden Bear top prize.
-- Later in the year, it also garnered the "Best European Film" at the European Film Academy Awards.

What I like about the movie?
-- Most people will be able to identify with the universal theme of the movie. It depicts the realism of what it is like to be a second generation in a foreign country, torn between the East and the West, torn between old and new values, etc. In addition, the main protagonists are also torn between their past and their future! Despite this common theme, the movie is VERY captivating. The audience does NOT know where the movie will go, or how it will end.
-- The movie manages to pepper a seemingly tragic story with comedy.
-- The great performances by the two main protagonists (even though the female did not have much prior acting experience!)
-- Not only is the Turkish music/song that is intermixed with the main plot traditional and interesting, it also parallels the gist of the story.
-- Somewhere near the end, there would be a dialogue in English, although the entire film is in German and Turkish (and a mix of the two). That is an important turning point in the movie, and food for thought: Why did they revert to speaking in English?

What may some people not like?
-- There are some gory but necessary scenes.
-- Again, I believe a lot is lost in the translation (I guess people in Germany will understand some of the humor/joke/cultural differences better).

In sum, I would say, "GO WATCH!"

11-23-2004, 06:31 PM

"Why did Birol Ünel suddenly switch to English while talking to Sibel's cousin in Istanbul?"

Well, I was discussing this with a friend, Sanoce, some months ago. So, he should get quite a large credit. ;)
(Hi Sanoce, please email me or arsaib4 if you still access this website)

Anyway, we had a very good discussion.
This is what that scene "may" try to convey ...

(1) A plausible explanation is that the guy is better in German and the sister is better in Turkish. The use of english also transmits both insecurities, while speaking to each other (for the first time).

BUT, it may have other meanings -- such as bridging the East and the West with English (i.e., also bridging the East and West in Turkey), etc

(2) English isn't the native language of any of the characters. For the sister, english was learned to succeed (rise above male competitors), for the protagonist, it was out of pleasure (music), and when they talk, each one uses "different" english to explain himself.

(3) Both are part of an already "globalised" world, where a turk with his language being German has to communicate in English with another turk in order to understand each other (critique of globalisation). But on the other hand, if there weren't "globalisation", the female lead couldn't have fled to the sister, and the male lead couldn't have talked to the sister. (positive side of "globalisation").

(4) Both persons in this dialogue realize through using the english language their "not-being-home" anywhere, their detachment from traditional turkish culture, and their need to define "home" in a new way, that isn't based on traditional things.

(5) DESPITE their being totally different characters, with totally different morals (and in this scene interest : he wanting to see the female lead, she not wanting him to see the female lead), the sister can also see their commoness (meaning the things ALL people have in common), so she tells him where the female lead is. This could happen, because the two characters finally MEET in this scene as equals ONLY through the english.

(6) Using english in this scene, makes every viewer in the world who speaks english (and it isn't their first language) understand much better, what the characters want ...


Chris Knipp
01-24-2005, 11:58 AM

Splashy chronicle of a generation in revolt against tradition

Review by Chris Knipp

Head On (Gegen die Wand), winner of the top prize "Golden Bear" at the 2004 Berlin Festival, is occasionally interrupted by a panoramic shot of a singer performing in front of a small Turkish orchestra on the banks of the Bosphorus across from Istanbul. It's a simple, at first incomprehensible, little device that provides punctuation and clarity amid the chaos and melodrama that otherwise dominate this story of a Turkish man in his forties and a twenty-year-old Turkish woman who meet in a psychiatric facility in Germany when both have attempted suicide -- he by crashing his car into a wall ("head on"), she by slitting her wrists. Cahit Tomruk (the sublimely attitudinizing Birol Ünel) is a purposeless rock 'n' roll loving boozer with a dead-end job collecting bottles at a club and Sibel Güner (the wiry, intense Sibel Kikulli) is a young woman with conservative Turkish parents who wants to escape family pressures.

Both are total drama queens and both are German-born Turks. Cahit is more assimilated; his Turkish isn't even good. Sibel figures if he'll agree to marry her that'll get her away from her family. This is the irony of their situation: she must capitulate to the conventions of their culture in order to gain some freedom from it, and he must capitulate to society in order to get some sense of purpose. So they do get married -- he somehow passes muster with the stuffy family, baulking all the way -- and they eventually even fall in love. Her joie de vivre is exactly what he needs, and she's essentially just as wild in her way as he is in his -- but his nihilism and violence continue unabated and so does her promiscuity, and his brutal attack on one of her one night stands leads to jail and scandal, which in turn forces her to go to Istanbul. While he's incarcerated she writes him sustaining letters from Turkey -- their relationship, like the staid orchestra on the Bosphorus, is a stable element amid the surrounding chaos -- and after jail he goes to Turkey to find her.

To say this turbulent, brightly colored, lurid story is a "realistic picture of Turks in Germany" would be a total distortion of the truth. But somehow the situation of Cahit and Sibel reflects the unstable moods this half assimilated, half alien population experiences, and however melodramatic and unresolved the saga is, the two main characters are very well realized. The actors are strong, especially Birol Ünel, whose charismatic brooding and ravaged good looks make him irresistibly watchable. Both feel real to us -- he sardonic and gloomy, she dangerously spirited and full of life-- despite her dramatic suicide attempts, of which there's more than one. The story, as much as the images through which it's told, is both dark and vibrant.

We need the Brechtian, Greek-chorus device of those orchestral interludes on the Bosphorus, though: without an occasional break the drama and darkness would be too much. We also need to go with the flow of this movie, and not expect it to be more polished or more organized, or even better looking, than it is. It looks unlike most films we're seeing now, but that doesn't mean the cinematographer hasn't done the best possible job. What it has is life, tumultuous with incident, strong personalities, and a milieu we've not seen before. There's also a loud, authentic-feeling rock-pop soundtrack and a cunning contrast between Cahit's punk-rock sensibility and Sibel's love of good grooming and dance. Arguably the movie is too long, but that length gives it the feel of a saga, which it must have, because that's what it is, the confused, tawdry epic of a generation. Like all first films by a whole subculture, it has a lot to talk about. When Sibel and Cahit discover they still love each other, after everything, it's the Turkish Germans discovering that they have self-worth. The last scenes are open-ended: this generation's future is anybody's guess.

Seen in Paris 17 September 2004. Opening in the US in January 2005. First German film to win a Golden Bear in Berlin in eighteen years.

oscar jubis
04-22-2005, 01:09 AM
I was extremely impressed with the deep characterizations of Cahit and Sibel, introduced as fucked-up desperados who increasingly gain complexity before our eyes, thanks to Fatih Akin's knowing script and nuanced performances from Birol Unel and Sibel Kekilli. What happens between them_ the way their relationship evolves from convenience to something more meaningful, is well-observed and allowed to develop realistically. Thumbs-up also for the Turkish-sextet-as-Greek-chorus device, set at the waterway dividing Europe from Asia. But when the film itself crosses into Istambul, Akin losses his head. There, Gegen die Wand truly becomes a "lurid story" (Chris Knipp) with "tonal inconsistencies" (arsaib4) as, in rapid succession, Sibel gets raped on the floor of a bar, beaten to a pulp, stabbed, and becomes a toddler's mom. Certainly not as accomplished a "culturally hybrid film" as My Beautiful Launderette, or even Dover Kosashvili's Late Marriage, yet well worth-watching. Its Golden Bear and European Film award too lofty a reward, in my opinion.

Chris Knipp
04-22-2005, 02:48 AM
Maybe the award has elements of guilt and affirmative action behind it. After all, the Germans have exploited Turkish "guestworkers" for decades, and the Turkish filmmaker deserved encouragement. Also, there is no other film about this group of people with this kind of energy and strength, and whatever it's strengths or weaknesses, in its overblown way, the movie is sincere. Did I say that? I don't remember. What I did say was "what it has is life," and like Ae Fond Kiss, it may have more life, because of rather than in spite of its crudeness, than the wonderfully polished and witty (and in every way superior) My Beautiful Laundrette.