In Fatih Akin's earlier film, "In July," the German-born writer-director took an old-fashioned road movie romance (a variation on "It Happened One Night") and gave it a craggy, sun-baked sweetness.
From the first 40 minutes of this new film, it seems as if he's doing much the same -- until he blindsides you with something new.
It's a strange effect; Akin plays on the familiar to inspire relaxation and the anticipation of something comfortable and routine, but then snatches it away and delivers something darker. The knee-jerked reaction may be to resist, but that would be a mistake. "Head-On" is one powerful film.
Meeting at a psychiatric clinic after they've both attempted suicide, a beautiful young woman, Sibel (Sibel Kekilli) proposes marriage to a shaggy, sad-faced, older man, Cahit (Birol Unel). They're both of Turkish descent, and Sibel figures that she can use this man, who picks up empty bottles for a living, to get away from her overbearing, traditional family.
Of course, the two will fall in love for real. But when Cahit defends his wife's honor and attacks one of her former lovers, he goes to jail. Sibel wanders the city in a daze, throwing herself vacantly into unwholesome and dangerous situations.
Akin's focus is always on the two characters, drawing out fully-rounded emotional centers for both. The storytelling flows naturally from this strong core. It helps that both actors burst with presence; Unel appeared previously in "In July," but Kekilli makes her debut here with astonishing force. "Head-On" also makes great use of nearly forgotten 1980s goth-punk music like the Sisters of Mercy, and it has the attitude to match.
Box Office Worldwide: $435.4 thousand
Production compaines: Corazón International, Panfilm, Wüste Filmproduktion, Arte, Bavaria Film International, Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR)
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Director: Fatih Akin
Starring: Birol Ünel as Cahit Tomruk, Sibel Kekilli as Sibel Güner, Catrin Striebeck as Maren, Güven Kıraç as Seref, Meltem Cumbul as Selma, Stefan Gebelhoff as Nico, Demir Gökgöl as Yunus Güner/ Vater, Cem Akin as Yilmaz Güner/ Bruder, Aysel Iscan as Birsen Güner/ Mutter, Francesco Fiannaca as Mann am Tresen, Mona Mur as Stammkundin Zoe Bar, Ralph Misske as Patient, Philipp Baltus as Patient