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Originally published Friday, May 6, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Turkish and German and lost in both worlds

On its surface and in many dark undercurrents, the heavy German drama "Head-On" is an aptly named collision of cultures and buried emotions...

Special to The Seattle Times

On its surface and in many dark undercurrents, the heavy German drama "Head-On" is an aptly named collision of cultures and buried emotions. It is also a riveting love story that never flinches from the unsettling reality of a specific social issue or the universal joys that two people can bring to each other's lives, no matter how hard they try to bring agony to their own.

Cahit (Birol Unel) is a walking train wreck, relying solely on alcohol, drugs and a mysterious self-disgust to carry him through the urban wasteland of Hamburg. Car wreck may be a better description, especially when he drives head-on into a wall, a spontaneous suicide attempt that lands him in a psych ward for a few days.

It's initially of small consequence that Cahit is also of not-too-distant Turkish descent, but that changes when he and Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), a Turkish beauty half his age, meet cute in the hospital (if anything in this grim story can be called "cute").

Sibel's arms are marred from at least one suicide attempt of her own, but we discover her background more easily than we do Cahit's. As the youngest daughter of a strict Islamic immigrant household, Sibel will do anything to get away from the repression of her family, even if it's a trip to the loony bin.

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Head-On," with Sibel Kekilli, Birol Unel. Written and directed by Fatih Akin. 118 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In German with English subtitles. Varsity.

Sensing something about Cahit, she chirpily asks, "Are you Turkish? Will you marry me?" There's never going to be a happily-ever-after for these cast-offs, but the arrangement they make in marriage does at least bring some satisfaction: Cahit gets a haircut and a housekeeper, and Sibel escapes the crushing burden of her family.

"Head-On" caused a minor stir and won many awards in Germany for scrutinizing the issue of Turkish immigrants and their struggle for a sense of place. Sibel's family is portrayed honestly for the integrity they try to maintain in a country that really doesn't want them. So, too, is Cahit, whose legacy causes him as much pain as it does ambivalence.

When Cahit shows up at Sibel's house to ask her father's permission for the (sham) marriage, one of her brothers is legitimately suspicious. "Your Turkish sucks," he says. "What happened to it?" Flashing a sheepish grin and glint of contempt, Cahit responds, "I threw it away."

Along with just about everything else in his life, it seems, since heartbreak has left him wallowing in bitterness. With Sibel on the scene, he begins rediscovering his Turkish roots with a vengeance — a horrible vengeance. Their arrangement courses a harrowing path through hate, cynicism and mutual self-abuse. Gradually, if predictably, comes rapprochement and even love. But don't look for the predictability to last long.

The movie is divided into sections by clips of a traditional Turkish musical group performing on a riverbank in Istanbul, the spires of an ornate mosque in the background. The final act takes place in Turkey, where Sibel has fled and Cahit has followed. There's nothing tidy in the resolutions, but "Head-On" stays true to its bitter, uplifting end.

Ted Fry:

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