Raw, impassioned and provocative, German drama Head-On lives up to its title in its opening minutes, as angry alcoholic Cahit (Birol Unel) deliberately drives his car into a wall. This failed suicide attempt brings him together with Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), the equally desperate daughter of strict Muslim Turks, who begs Cahit to join her in a marriage of convenience. Soon enough, though, faked feelings turn real in a film that's part comedy, part tragedy and filled with a sense of edgy surprise.
The first hour is particularly tense, peppered with sudden jolts of violence including one person's alarming attack on their own wrists. Initially it's tempting to distance yourself from such self-destructive characters, especially the filthy, lurching Cahit. But the committed performances draw you right in: Unel exudes ragged charisma while first-timer Kekilli convincingly nails the lust for life that seduces her new husband.
"BRUTAL BUT STEEPED IN OFFBEAT HUMOUR"
Just as impressive is writer/director Fatih Akin, who takes a swing at traditional Turkish mores without drawing attention away from the central romance. Although often brutal, the film is also steeped in offbeat humour (check out the coked-up wedding scene) and a tenderness that fully flowers in the lower-key last act. The only hint of arty pretension comes from the Greek chorus of musicians who punctuate the drama. Happily, though, they're offset by Akin's terrific use of a Goth-rock song-track (Depeche Mode, Sisters Of Mercy etc), a raging reflection of the characters' desires that adds another corkscrew to this exhilarating emotional rollercoaster.
In German with English subtitles.