The power and influence of family resonates through Head-On
, a film that takes a fairly standard romantic scenario and turns it into something smart and compelling even when it is not hard to guess what happens next. Two particularly fine performances help guide the film through its near rom-com conventions. Birol Ünel plays Cahit Tomruk, a Turk living a bum-ish life of grumpy alcoholic depression in Hamburg, and after unenthusiastically attempting suicide he ends up in a clinic with Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), a beautiful, sweet girl who immediately and fervently pleads for Cahit to marry her. Sibel explains that with the two married she can lead the free, sexually wild lifestyle she wants without being threatened by her conservative Turkish family, who place more emphasis on family honor than on actual family members. After understandably tossing off her suggestion as that of a delirious woman, Sibel has another messy suicide attempt and Cahil reluctantly agrees it marry her. It only seems a matter of time before this mourning, bearded misfit will fall in love with the beaming, cheery beauty who now shares his apartment, and indeed that is what does happen and much of Head-On
plot-wise goes just as one would expect.
It is the ethnicity of Cahil and Sibel, which is always looming in the background of Head-On
, that differentiates the film from the countless others which similarly rework co-ed odd-couple dramatics. Yet, in a paradox, writer and director Fatih Akin, himself a Turkish German, should be commended for not overtly making his film a drama of a unique, oppressed minority. Instead, the film delicately and intelligently uses the conventions of its plot to look at the fallacies and benefits of the couple’s removed traditional background. While Sibel tries as best she can to physically escape her family, Cahit, who seems to sympathize with his German side more than his Turkish roots, begins to find meaning in his platonic, familial relationship with Sibel. The evolving feelings between the two would seem pat if these opposing stances in the way to lead a meaningful, fulfilling life did not complicate them. By the end, Akin wisely sends both Sibel and Cahit back to Turkey for them both to grow as individuals, and relate obliquely but importantly to their heritage. The result is a film that effectively, sympathetically finds a way to incorporate the wisdom of tradition into a modern life without endorsing any kind of oppressive conservatism.