Gegen die Wand (Head On, 7/10)

by Tony Medley

This is a sick, amoral, story of two lowlife losers. Sounds a lot like “Sideways,” doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. “Sideways” is a Donald Duck cartoon compared with this.

Cahit Tomruk (Birol Ünel) is a Turk living in Hamburg, and a bum, an angry, dirty, disheveled, unshaven bum. And he’s a drunken bum. And a bum who does drugs. And he lives in an apartment that looks like it could be a pigsty if he cleaned it up a little. Sibel Güner (Sibel Kikelli) is a young Turk from a middle class Muslim family. Sibel’s father thinks she has disgraced the family, either because she’s not married, or because she’s fooling around. Her brother broke her nose because he feels she has disgraced the family.

However, Kikelli’s appearance caused a huge controversy when the film was released in Germany in 2003. While this is her mainline film debut, her appearance in this film resulted in the discovery that she is a veteran of hard core porn films, which scandalized the Hamburg Muslim community. 

Sibel meets Cahit at a psychological hospital for people who have attempted suicide, which both have done, and immediately asks him to marry her. She’s not in love, but she wants to get away from her family “and sleep with a lot of men,” and the only way to get away from her family is to marry a Turk, which is the only type of person her family will approve. The one person she doesn’t want to sleep with, however, is Cahit. In one of the many leaps of faith asked of us by writer-director Faith Akin (of Turkish heritage, born in Hamburg) has him agree. We’ve already been introduced to Cahit as a rude, cantankerous, violent, selfish lout, who is abusive to women with whom he is involved. There is no explanation as to why Cahit would do something so monumental as to marry a stranger out of the goodness of his heart with absolutely nothing in it for him, not even sex. While Sibel’s character is possible, I couldn’t conceive of Cahit agreeing to marry her, going to the extreme of cleaning up and going to meet her family. But he does, and with this feckless basis the story starts. The question is, will he drag her down or will she raise him up, or visa-versa, or neither?

What the 31 year-old Akin is studying here is that people who are intent on self destruction cannot be stopped from their goal, no matter how they are raised. Akin clearly wanted to shock his audience by the brutality and dirtiness of the scenes he films and the incomprehensibility of the relationship between a filthy bum and a middle class girl. There are many other things in the film that are logically incomprehensible and go totally unexplained. Akin throws in a scene of an assault on Sibel in the last third of the film that comes out of nowhere and is then forgotten and unexplained.

This is not an enjoyable movie. In many parts it doesn’t make sense. It’s ugly. It’s dirty. It’s low class. But it is damned intriguing. (In German, with subtitles).

January 30, 2005

The End