Friday, June 24, 2011


A few years ago, I saw the 2004 movie Head-On, directed by Fatih Akin. If you haven't seen it, do so. Netflix has it streaming. Hell, see everything you can by Akin. In Head-On, Sibel Kekilli plays a young Turkish woman living in Germany with her overbearing family. She's so sick of them (to the point of suicidal despair) that she convinces an older Turkish guy, played by Birol √únel, to marry her. He's a dirtbag ex-punk rocker who wants little to do with her and less to do with marriage, seeing as how he's in a psychiatric clinic following his own suicide attempt (he drove his car into a wall, despairing over the death of his first wife). They initially lead separate lives, but gradually fall in love. Then things go bad again. I'm not gonna go into all the chaos that ensues, but there's rape, murder, prison, and much more. It's an amazing movie, one that could easily have become a hammering polemic about conservative Muslim thinking and how it conflicts with the more liberal social atmosphere of Western Europe, but chooses instead to focus on individuals who are themselves, and not mere symbols.

I wish the same were true of When We Leave, a 2010 movie, also about German Turks, and also starring Sibel Kekilli, that I saw this week. In this one, Kekilli (who had a nose job between the two movies, so I wasn't sure it was her until her name popped up onscreen at the end) plays a young Turkish woman who flees her abusive husband in Istanbul, taking their son, and attempts to seek refuge with her family in Germany. Her parents are more concerned with maintaining their status and honor within the community than they are with her happiness or safety, and her older brother is a psychotic thug who beats her, attempts to steal the kid and return him to his father, and is basically starring in a Lifetime movie about the evils of Muslim gender politics. The movie is so melodramatic that from the moment I saw the brother glowering at her across the dinner table, the first night she's back under her parents' roof, I knew he was going to attempt to punish her via "honor killing," and the only questions were how long it would take for the movie to get there, and whether he'd be successful or not. But in between, Kekilli's character does pretty much everything she can to lose the audience's sympathy. She repeatedly attempts to gain her family's support, long after it's obvious to everyone else on Earth that it's not coming (doors are literally slammed in her face—this is not a subtle movie), in the process breaking the rules of the women's shelter she's placed in by the German authorities, she disrupts family gatherings with public displays that wind up dishonoring them even further in the eyes of other Turks...I found myself basically shouting "TAKE THE HINT, STUPID" at the screen about a half dozen times.

So yeah, if you're gonna watch a movie about Turkish immigrants to Germany and their problems, Head-On is the one, and When We Leave is a propagandistic crapfest you can safely avoid.

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