Tag: fatih akin

Head-On


Head-On (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★

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.

New York, I Love You


New York, I Love You (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

I’ve been waiting for this movie to be released in theaters for more than a year so I was really excited to see it when it finally was. Unfortunately, out of the ten segments (presented in order of appearances on screen–directed by Jiang Wen, Mira Nair, Shunji Iwai, Yvan Attal, Brett Ratner, Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman, Fatih Akin and Joshua Marston) only about five worked for me–the second (starring Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan), the third (Orlando Bloom and Christina Ricci), the fourth (Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q), the fifth (Anton Yelchin, Olivia Thirlby, James Caan and Blake Lively), and the tenth (Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman).

I really wanted to love this movie as much as “Paris, je t’aime.” What made the first one so great is the fact that even though we encounter so many different genres and tones throughout the picture, it felt cohesive because we truly get a sense of who the characters were in under five to seven minutes. In “New York, I Love You,” it all feels a little bit too commercial. I felt as though it wanted to impress all kinds of people so much to the point where it held back emotionally and avoided taking risks. I’m also astounded by the fact that there were no homosexual storylines, barely any segments consisting of African-American or Latino characters, and most of clips consisted of a person falling in love or lust with another person. There are many dimensions of love (love for the city, love for a pet, love for oneself…) but it didn’t quite think outside the box. Those missing qualities are crucial to me because New York is supposed to be a melting pot of ethnicities, sexualities and mindsets yet we got to see the same kinds of people time and again. With “Paris, je t’aime,” we get diversity and in more than half of them, there was not a happy ending, which I thought was closer to real life than the stories presented in this film.

The five segments that I thought were standouts had a certain passion in every single one of them, whether it’s about a woman who doesn’t quite feel comfortable about getting married; an artist struggling to read one of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s books and whose curiosity of a woman he’s only met through the phone bothered him to the core; a man who thinks one way about a woman turning out to be someone completely different than we all expected; a teenager who goes to prom with a blind date unknowing of the fact that his date is unlike anyone he expected; and a couple celebrating their marriage that lasted for more than sixty years. Those are the kinds of stories I want to tune into and dissect because hidden layers are embedded in them. What I don’t want to see is someone supposedly falling in love unless he or she has something truly significant or different to contribute. The other five segments that I didn’t quite like should have been taken out and replaced by stories from other genres such as horror or science fiction, or they could have had a different mood or perception such as in a black-and-white reality or featuring a person so wasted in drugs–a way in which we could see the world through their eyes. That would have made more sense to me because we are essentially a drug culture. Or it could have featured at least one fashion model or a fashionista because New York is one of the biggest fashion capitals in the world. Instead of really embracing to tackle issues mentioned previously, the movie was way too safe with those other segments.

Having said all of that, I have to admit that I’m particularly hard on this picture. Since I don’t do half-star ratings, it must be said that I consider this a solid two-and-a-half star movie. When I came out of the theater, I was certain that I was going to give it three stars out of four but after thinking about it a little bit, it made me realize how much potential it didn’t use to create a truly magnificent project. For such a fascinating place like New York City, you just can’t play everything safe and get away with it. At least not with me because I’m big on seeing diversity and reality in certain kinds of films, especially in slice-of-life cinema. I’m not saying at all to not see this in theaters. By all means, please do to support a film released only on limited release. But what I want you to take away from this review is the awareness that what’s being presented on this film is not the gritty and dirty New York but the clean, nice New York we see on a prime time television shows.

Hopefully, the next project from this film series would not be as afraid to branch out.

The Edge of Heaven


The Edge of Heaven (2007)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Even though I did hear a lot of critical acclaim about this motion picture, I didn’t expect much coming into it. However, after finally watching it, I must say that I was absolutely blown away because of the way Fatih Akin, the writer and director, told such a human story about devastating losses and partial recoveries. The first part was about an aging father (Tuncel Kurtiz) making a deal with a prostitute (Nursel Köse) to live with him and only sleep with him while paying her the same amount of money she would make in one month. I saw the father’s situation as a way to gain control of someone because of his own frustration with his son (Baki Davrak) even though it’s apparent that they genuinely love each other. The second part was about Köse’s daughter (Nurgül Yesilçay) escaping to Germany because she’s wanted by her country’s officials for “terrorism.” She meets Patrycia Ziolkowska and the two become friends and lovers. Eventually, Yesilçay pushes Ziolkowska’s mother (Hanna Schygulla) to the edge because the mother believes that Yesilçay is preventing the daughter from achieving her education. The third part is the most powerful because the film shows that all of the six characters have impacted each other more than they ever thought possible. Although this film does intersect the six lives, it’s not one of those preachy movies with a twist in the end in order to accomplish some dramatic irony. Everything is naturalistic yet bizarre but it never lets go of the fact that it’s grounded in reality. It has enough coincidences to show that life is still magical despite the political battles, strained relationships between children and their parents, and lovers that are never meant to be. To me, the most powerful scene in the movie (among many) was when Schygulla and Yesilçay finally settle their differences. I found it beautiful that, despite all the anger and sadness, a person can look past all those negative emotions and embrace forgiveness. I was also impressed with Davrak as the son who pretty much has nobody even though his father is still around. Their interactions are somewhat cold (but as I said before I think they do love each other) but he still manages to radiate this warmth and craving for knowledge. This is not a simple film that ties up all the loose ends by the time the credits start rolling. This is, in a way, a slice-of-life picture designed for audiences who want to see fascinating characters dealing with realistic situations and deeply affecting outcomes.