Head-On (German)

Cahit (Birol Unel) is a violent and drunken man, a bum whose weathered face looks every day of its 40-plus years. He works at a nightclub, picking up empty glasses and bottles, drinking to excess in his spare time. One night in a rage of depression and bitterness, he rams his car straight into a brick wall.

The suicide attempt does nothing to improve his demeanor, and he is still a wrathful jerk in the hospital, where he meets Sibil (Sibel Kekilli), a beautiful 21-year-old Turkish girl who recently proved inept at slitting her wrists. Cahit is Turkish, too (though they both live in Germany now), and for that reason Sibil wants to marry him. Her old-fashioned family will not leave her in peace until she has wed a nice Turkish boy, and so she proposes a marriage that would be in name only. They’d be roommates, basically, free to live their own lives as long as Cahit makes an occasional visit to the in-laws’.

So far, “Head-On,” by German filmmaker Fatih Akin, sounds like a blithe romantic comedy, wherein living together leads the two fake-marrieds to eventually fall in love for real. And though that is, in fact, what happens, “Head-On” remains the furthest thing from romantic comedy. It is dour and gritty, brimming with harsh language, harsh sex and a moment or two of harsh violence for good measure. It is punctuated by interludes of a woman and six tuxedoed men performing Turkish folk music next to a river — a whimsical touch that belies the movie’s general somberness.

I do find the central characters interesting, though I can’t say I really like either of them. Both are paradoxes, and taken together they both complement and contradict one another. Cahit is cynical and angry, yet his suicide attempt was just one night of drunken sadness. Sibil, radiant and sunny in appearance, is the truly depressed one whose suicidal tendencies are ongoing. It is Cahit who introduces Sibil to his life of wanton sexual encounters and cocaine use, but soon Sibil has outpaced him in every regard, leaving him as the voice of reason and the spurned would-be lover. (Cahit never gets to sleep with Sibil, partly because of their agreement, and partly because his “wife” is always out sleeping with someone else.)

As their relationship becomes more tragic, so do the events in their lives, and there is where the film loses me altogether. A weepy romance is one thing, but “Head-On” is too sober to be weepy, not romantic enough to achieve any real emotional connection.

C+ (1 hr., 52 min.; German and Turkish with subtitles; R, a lot of harsh profanity, a lot of nudity, some strong sexuality, a few moments of violence and blood.)