★★★ / ★★★★
Cahit (Birol Ünel) crashed his vehicle onto a wall after he was kicked out of a bar for disorderly conduct. Recovering in a psychiatric clinic, Cahit bumps into Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), a woman with the tendency of cutting her wrists when her life becomes unbearable. Although they do not know each other at all, Sibel asks Cahit to marry her. According to Sibel, their sham marriage will give her an alibi to move out of her parents’ house and live life according to her rules.
Written and directed by Fatih Akin, “Gegen die Wand,“ also known as “Head-On,” explores love in a manner that does not feel false or contrived. It begins with a small but important commonality between two people: the need to have someone who understands what it is like to want to reject one’s culture in hopes of finding a better one and then branches into deeper connections like friendship and partnership. Cahit and Sibel have, to say the least, rough and volatile personalities.
I enjoyed the film for its honesty. The writer-director is not afraid to make us feel sorry or embarrassed for his protagonists as they take solace in random hook-ups and drugs. Every time Cahit takes someone to bed, we watch him perform like he has something to prove or that he wants to be reminded so badly that he is still alive, still able to feel sensations that a “normal” person can feel. Sometimes the sex is titillating, other times it just comes across as awkward.
Likewise, each time Sibel snorts cocaine, there is a happiness about her because she has completely bought into the illusion that just because her parents no longer track her every move, that what she has attained is freedom. In a reality, she has only moved from one kind of prison to another. The fact that she is depressed coupled with her taking stimulants is such a toxic combination, it is actually scary to watch. It cannot be mistaken that the duo lives very sad lives—a cycle of self-hatred, self-pity, and apathy. There are times when the picture shows no mercy in portraying people living on the edge of life and death.
Sometimes it appears as though the characters could care less if they lived or died but I found myself continuing to feel for them. Whenever each is faced with a life-changing decision, I hoped that they would choose to do the right thing even though they most likely would not. The film is most interesting in that about halfway through, it changes gears by forcing Cahit and Sibel to mature. It is hard to watch them deal with the repercussions of their actions but it is most necessary. The jump forward in time is handled with maturity and wisdom. We grow curious if remnants of their former selves remain. Are people really able to change completely?
I admired the film’s scope and vision. Due to its depth and complexity, one can interpret the story several ways. Despite its darkness, one might argue that it is a beautiful story about self-worth. Because if Cahit and Sibel did not have a glimmer of it somewhere within, they would not have had the will to fight against the tide.