- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

“Head-On,”Web sources are quite split on whether the English version of the title has a hyphen. Imdb gives it one, so I went with that. ” tl, qualifies as an ethnic curiosity.

Written and directed by a German-born Turk named FatihAkin, it doesn’t lack for dynamic impulses and lurid commercial potential. Ultimately, they lure the filmmaker up trashy, self-defeating blind alleys while he struggles to generate pathos around a “bad for each other” love match. But despite the wretched excess, Mr. Akin might be a comer, positioned to seize a cinematic niche by specializing in tales of the Turkish immigrant diaspora in Europe.

At its most intriguing and culturally partisan, the movie seems to suggest that there’s so much energy and incentive in the Turkish immigrant community that it might annex such metropolitan centers as Hamburg, Germany, Mr. Akin’s birthplace, in a generation or two. Indeed, the social backdrop is more interesting than the bedraggled foreground relationship between a 40-ish confirmed drunkard named Cahit and a prospective trollop named Sibel, about 20 years his junior.

They meet weird, in a mental hospital after Cahit drives a car into a wall and Sibel slashes her wrists. As the wall-banger, Birol Unel resembles the sort of French actors typecast as hoodlums. As the temptress, Sibel Kekilli is a new look in naughty ingenues: Her angular face and mischievous smile suggest a Modigliani model who craves to be the life of the party. She becomes far less interesting when the scenario downshifts from sensationalistic to sappy in the final half-hour.

Evidently attracted by Cahit’s unkempt appearance and scowling defiance, Sibel suggests they marry. Because his “job” is collecting empties and shattered glassware at a Hamburg bar, the hero is hardly a catch. However, Sibel is not picky. She’s keen on getting away from her protective family in order to run wild, particularly as a pickup and a drug addict. She’s willing to invest her savings in a marriage of convenience that doesn’t cramp a hedonistic agenda. Cahit plays along, in his ill-tempered, stupefied sort of way.

Trying to prevent “Head-On” from running on fumes, Mr. Akin botches a U-turn, reversing from relentless sensation and provocation to morning-after regret. A manslaughter case puts Cahit behind bars. A change of venue finds Sibel in Istanbul, where she miraculously survives a stomping-and-knifing assault, then experiences a change of outlook and lifestyle during a generous time gap.

One senses that Mr. Akin has run out of variations on scenes of dirty dancing, mad sex, cocaine consumption, and assault and battery. The idea that his characters have matured into wistful, sadder-but-wiser specimens remains a never-documented stretch.

Yet amid the wreckage, there are elements that suggest career possibilities: the director’s pictorial flair with cityscapes and frenzied emotions, his familiarity with the incongruities of Turkish and German culture, and his taste in exotic and assertive actresses. Miss Kekilla is only one striking example.

Though vulnerable as a slumming party, “Head-On” is also a talent showcase.

**

TITLE: “Head-On”

RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter, consistent with the R category: frequent profanity, graphic violence, nudity, simulated intercourse and depictions of habitual drug use)

Written and directed by Fatih Akin. Cinematography by Rainer Klausmann. Production design by Tamo Kunz. Music consultant: Klaus Maecknames cq. In Turkish and German with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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