Short Sharp Shock
Gegen die Wand/ Head On (2004) is a brutal melodrama of loneliness,
pairing a failed middle-aged man who probably still grieves his dead wife
and a soon-to-be-failed young woman who craves casual sex the way children
crave candies. One has no ambition left, the other one refuses any ambition.
For different reasons they don't have any pride. For different reasons they are
not looking for redemption. They just want to indulge in their vice of
loneliness. They are both worth nothing. They both think they don't have the
strength to be worth something.
They come from opposite places (he is not only indifferent of but even ignorant
of traditional life, she is hostile to it), but they both represent the
denial of the traditional values of family and tribe.
Eventually they make the big mistake of becoming "traditional", and they pay
a price for it.
The story is divided in sections, each section starting with a band of traditional Turkish musicians performing against the backdrop of an Istanbul panorama.
Cahit is a middle-aged Turk living in Germany who works in a factory, picking
up empty beer bottles. When he is not doing his boring job, he gets drunk
at a depressing bar. Sometimes his girlfriend Maren, a hairdresser, joins him
for a drink. One day he has a fight with other men, drives away and crashes on
purpose against a wall.
He is taken to a mental institution where he meets an exuberant girl,
Sibel, also Turkish, who seems happy to have found him.
The relatives talk to the girl: she has tried to kill herself, and that's how
she ended up in the same institution.
She still lives with her parents and
is subject to the traditional domination of the family's males (her father
and her brother, who promises to kill her if she sleeps again with a man).
She is 20 years younger than Cahit but she takes the first chance to propose
to him, despite the fact that he is still wearing a cast around his neck and
can hardly walk straight. She invites him to a bar and tells him bluntly that
she wants the freedom to have sex with men. When he rejects her, she proves
her determination by slitting her wrist in front of him.
Sibel is desperate to leave her house and her only way out is marriage, for
which she needs a Turkish husband.
Sibel offers to marry Cahit and be a good housewife, as long as he lets her
have sex with other men. It's just a marriage of convenience so that she can
gain her freedom.
They keep arguing on a bus until the bus driver kicks them out.
The band plays music in Istanbul. Cahit goes home: it's a messy and dirty place.
He drinks and stares at the picture of a woman. He meets his friend Seref in
a jazz club and tells him that he has decided to marry the girl in order to
help her get rid of her family. The friend dresses up and pretends to be the
uncle who arranges the marriage, and introduces Cahit as a factory manager.
Sibel's cousin Selma, her best friend, arrives
from Istanbul to attend the wedding. Selma, like everyone else, is puzzled
that Sibel could not find anyone better than Cahit to marry.
At the wedding we learn that Cahit is a widower.
The marriage appeases her family and Sibel can finally move out of her
parents' home. Cahit goes back to his routine of alcohol and drugs.
When Sibel asks him about his wife Katarina, Cahit explodes and kicks her out.
Sibel walks to the bar and picks up the bartender, showing the kind of sexual
freedom that offended her family and made her wish so badly to move out.
Before leaving the cousin Selma invites Sibel to dump the fake husband and
move to Istanbul with her.
Sibel sticks to their agreement and keeps their house clean.
She even cuts his hair. Cahit, who is permanently in a stupor because of the
alcohol and drugs, makes brutal love to Maren, who still doesn't
know that he married Sibel. He tells her that Sibel needs a job and is good
at haircuts, so Maren offers her a job in her salon. Cahit and Sibel go
dancing together, but she leaves with another guy. Home alone, Cahit messes
up his place again, loads a rifle and shoots the wedding picture.
The band plays in Istanbul. Six months later she already owns a car
and takes Cahit to visit her family. The brother-in-law tries to bond with
Cahit with his Turkish friends but Cahit clearly does not belong to their
culture: when they propose to visit a brothel, he asks them why they don't
have sex with their wives, and they get offended that their wives would
be viewed as sexual objects. Cahit is not only indifferent of but even
ignorant of Turkish culture.
The brother-in-law found out that Cahit is not a factory manager but just
a humble worker. Cahit's excuse is that he was in love with the girl, and
the brother-in-law is moved by it.
Cahit and Sibel go to a bar together and she, again, leaves with another man.
Cahit has sex at home with Maren, who thinks he is better than ever in bed.
One evening Sibel cooks for Cahit a nice dinner like a devoted housewife
but makes the mistake of telling him that he has to pretend to be impotent
so that they can justify the fact that they don't have children. Offended,
he leaves slamming the door. She sniffs cocaine preparing for her date.
Cahit drinks at the bar with Maren and tells her that Sibel is his wife
but they never have sex. Then he walks drunk into the club where Sibel is
and gets into a fight with a man who wants to dance with her. His friends beat
him up. After that demonstration of jealousy (or at least hurt pride),
Cahit and Sibel finally make love. However, she stops him before he can come
because she thinks that they would truly become husband and wife if they
completed the intercourse.
Cahit goes to a Turkish club with his friend Seref, cuts his hand out of
anger, and starts dancing on stage. Maren, who doesn't seem jealous at all,
tells Sibel about Katarina. Maren also tells Sibel that she is Cahit's
sex buddy. Sibel leaves the salon angry and sends her lover Niko to hell.
Niko is just one of the many but clearly he would like to be more than that.
Then she spends the evening by herself at the amusement park, having fun like
Niko makes fun of Cahit at the bar where they both are. Cahit eventually
snaps and hits him with a bottle, accidentally killing him just when Sibel
is walking into the door.
Sibel cries and slits her wrists but then has second thoughts and stops the
bleeding. The newspapers publish the news that Sibel was sleeping with another
man and Cahit killed him. Sibel's father burns all the pictures of her, and
her brother tries to kill her in the street. She finds shelter for one night
at Seref's place. Seref tells her to flee to Istanbul. She admits that she
loves Cahit. She says goodbye to her mother and then visits Cahit in prison,
promising that she will wait for him.
The band plays in Istanbul. Sibel, who now cut her hair very short and wears
pants, moves in with Selma in Istanbul. Selma is a career woman in a big hotel
and finds Sibel a humble job at the hotel. But Sibel is not meant for a life
of work and home. One evening she sits next to young kids at a fast-food place
and asks them where she can get drugs: the kids are shocked. She cannot stand
the routine of work and writers to Cahit that she now despises Selma who
only lives for work. Sibel walks alone in a bar (an unusual sight in Turkey)
and picks up a man at random. The man gives her opium and asks her to move
in with him and work in his club. Sibel tells Selma how much she despises her
"normal" lifestyle and moves out. She gets so drunk in a club that the owner
can have sex with her while she is still lying unconscious on the floor after
all the customers have left.
Walking home alone at night she is beaten by three men. She keeps provoking them
so that they keep beating her. She insults them, basically testing their
belief that a woman (especially a woman like her) should never address a man
in that defiant tone. Eventually one of them pulls out a knife and stabs her.
They leave her for dead. A taxi driver finds her lying in the deserted street.
The band plays in Istanbul. Years later Cahit is released from prison. He tells Seref that
he is determined to find Sibel. Seref knows and has saved money to buy Cahit
an air ticket. Cahit tries to find out Sibel's address from her brother but
her brother coldly replies that he has no sister. Cahit lands in Istanbul
and finds Selma at the hotel. Selma is now the manager. She refuses to tell
Cahit where Sibel lives: Sibel has a new life, a rich husband and a daughter.
Selma is afraid that Cahit would destroy Sibel's life (neglecting the fact that
Sibel destroyed Cahit's life). At night he has a nightmare of him crashing
the car against the wall. Sibel calls, but tells him that she cannot talk.
Cahit spends the days waiting for Sibel to appear. Eventually she does.
They make love in his hotel room, like she owed it to him.
He asks her to flee with him to his hometown.
However, at the last minute she doesn't show up
and he leaves alone for his hometown.
The band finish playing in Istanbul. They stand up and bend to the audience.
Auf der Anderen Seite/ The Edge of Heaven (2008) is the contemplative
counterpart to the brutal Head-On (2004). The plot is unnecessarily
complicated by shifting from Germany to Turkey and by shuffling the chronology,
but essentially the film is a character study, and not much of a story.
In fact, it has no ending.
The screenplay is artificially intricate, when the two stories it tells are
relatively simple. The only oddity, and perhaps a hidden message of the film,
is that the two stories intersect syntactically but not sematically: the
characters of the two stories meet and interact, but without ever finding out
that they are part of the same story.
Another oddity of the screenplay is that the first two sections have titles
that give away what is going to happen (in both cases somebody dies).
It is either an interesting satire of film-goers' paranoia for spoilers
or a way to shift the focus of attention: instead of the suspense created
by an unknown future, we are invited to the cold analysis created by
fore-knowledge of the future.
The superficial theme of the plot is that they never find out who each other
is and what he or she means. The other theme is one of
redemption and repentance. This is more complex and ambiguous because the
repentance comes with a loss of morality (the son forgives a father who was
a drunk and a pervert and became a murderer; the daughter betrays her fellow
radicals when she repents; the prostitute repents by becoming the concubine
of an old pervert; the mother redeems herself by continuing the
mission of a daughter who was helping a criminal).
In Turkey during a religious holiday a young man (Nejat) drives
along a road, stops at a store, inquires about the music that is being played.
Protesters are marching in the streets.
An old man, Ali, wanders around the red-light district of a German city
staring at the prostitutes. He picks one who turns out to be Turkish like
him, Yeter. Two Muslim men who are passing by overhear that she is Turkish.
Ali's son Nejat is going home by train. He is a professor of German literature.
We see him lecture while one girl in the audience is fast asleep.
Nejat speaks German.
Ali takes him to the horse races and wins. Later Ali visits the same Turkish
prostitute, tells her that he is a widower with a pension, and offers to pay her the equivalent of her monthly income if she
goes to live with him. Yeter takes the subway and the two Muslim men approach
her and threaten to harm her if she does not "repent". She promises to repent.
She then accepts Ali's offer. Ali is proud that he raised Nejat by himself (his
mother died when he was just six months old). Yeter tells Ali and Nejat that
she is a widow too, and that her daughter Ayten lives in Turkey and is studying
at the university, and Ayten doesn't know that her mother is a whore.
Nejat is shocked (but not too much) that she's a whore.
Ali gets drunk, demands sex, beats Yeter and accidentally kills her.
Ali is jailed.
The coffin of Yeter arrives in Turkey for a proper burial. Ayten has disappeared
for several months, so she doesn't know that her mother is dead.
Nejat follows the coffin and decides to find Ayten. He posts pictures in the
streets and in stores. He meets a bookstore owner and decides to take over
Back to the protesters. One of them is Ayten. They are beaten and arrested
by the police. She has a gun and runs away. Chased, she hides her gun on
the roof of a building. However she has lost her cell phone in the street.
The following day the police raid a house full of women, all of them radicals
like Ayten. Ayten is helped by her comrades to escape to Germany, where she
assumes a new identity, Gul. She looks for her mother Yeter but cannot find
any clue. The only place where she can sleep is the university. She's the one
who is asleep while Nejat is lecturing. Ayten speaks English. A nice student,
Lotte, helps her. She has just come back from India and lives with her mother
Suzanne. Lotte is fascinated by the story of the dissident who is persecuted
by her government and invites Ayten to move in with her. The two become lovers.
Ayten's mother has little control over her daughter.
Ayten and Yeter will never know it, but they were in the same place at the
same time. Ayten was in the same street when Yeter's tram passed by.
The cops stop Lotte for a routine check. Ayten, afraid of being arrested,
runs away. She's caught and a judge expels her from Germany because Turkish
citizens do not qualify as political exiles.
Lotte is terrified that Ayten will be tortured in Turkey and takes the plane
to Turkey, driven by a mixture of romantic love and political passion.
Lotte's mom begs her to go back to the university, but Lotte replies that now
she finally has a mission in life. It takes months for Lotte to get a permit
to visit Ayten in jail.
During those months Lotte also meets Nejat in his bookstore, and even notices
the picture of Yeter that Nejat has posted. She rents a room from Nejat, and
will never find out that he is the son of the man who killed Ayten's mother
(nor that Ayten's mother is dead).
Lotte visits Ayten in jail and Ayten asks her to retrieve the gun that she hid
on the roof. Lotte finds the gun and is walking home when a group of children
on drugs steal her purse with the gun inside. She chases them and finds them,
but one of them pulls the trigger and kills her.
The detectives tell Ayten that Lotte has been killed and beg her to collaborate.
Lotte's coffin flies back to Germany.
Ali is deported to Turkey while Suzanne (Lotte's mother) flies to Turkey of
her own will. She now wants to carry out Lotte's mission. Suzanne takes
Lotte's room in Nejat's house, reads Lotte's diary and visits Ayten in jail.
She tells Nejat that she was a hippy in her youth.
Ayten is heartbroken that she caused Lotte's death and decides to "repent" to
the authorities. Her friends in jail spit on her as she walks out free.
On the first day of the religious holiday Nejat drives out of the city. It's
the first scene of the film, played again scene by scene. He left Suzanne
to take care of the bookstore. That's where Ayten goes, not knowing that
it's the bookstore of the son of the man who killed her mother.
Nejat is visiting his father in the fishermen's village where he relocated.
Nejat just stares at the sea, feeling guilty that he owes everything to his
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