Life in the Fast Lane

Issue section: 

Review of 'Head-On', director Fatih Akin

Chahit is an unpleasant fortysomething drunken slob living in Hamburg on the edge of destitution. He's as filthy as his bedsit. He snorts coke. He treats women and life with contempt. Bored, angry and desperate, he drives his car full-speed into a wall in a lazy attempt to kill himself.

In hospital he meets Sibel, who has also attempted suicide. She is young, clean, beautiful and middle class. But she too is bored, desperate and angry, suffocated and abused by the men in her conservative Muslim Turkish family. By threatening to cut her wrists until she dies, Sibel persuades Chahit to marry her so that she can be free to dance and make love to men other than him.

This unlikely marriage of convenience is made utterly convincing by the superb performances of the two lead actors. The marriage liberates him from numbing depression and her from numbing duty, and gradually leads to love. But this is not a Hollywood love story. It is a dark and raw film that is never easy viewing, not even at the end. It is brilliant in parts, not so brilliant in others. The early violence, for example, which shows the suicide attempts, is shocking and relevant. Some of the later violence, in particular a rape scene, is entirely unnecessary.

It's not Hollywood for another reason. It cleverly explores the problems of identity, culture and women's rights for first and second generation Turks living in Germany. The young director, himself a German of Turkish origin, knows his subject well and deftly avoids the clich├ęs about both types of society, and about love.

The brutality and despair in the film would be almost unbearable to watch without the many unexpected scenes of tenderness and humour. These, along with the acting and a surprising mixture of western rock music and Turkish folk songs performed on the banks of the Bosphorus, help make the DVD well worth renting - though not to be advised if you need cheering up!