Within an initially hyperbolic narrative, farfetched in its extreme situations, Gegen die Wand (Head-On) manages to insert many small insights into the Turkish community living in Germany, characterizing the difficulty immigrants have in defining themselves when they no longer feel Turkish but don’t completely identify with being German. In 2004 it was the winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Set in Hamburg, the story revolves around Cahit and Sibel, both of Turkish decent, who struggle with their new lives in Germany. Sibel, whose family insists she lives up to Turkish expectations for a woman, persuades Cahit to marry her so she can escape her parents’ ideals.
The film is shot so the viewer observes but never gains full access to the characters. Close ups of Sibel and Cahit never offer eye contact or are shot from behind so the entire time the viewer feels close to the characters, sits in the room with them and empathizes with their emotions, but never entirely connects with them. Still, many of the close shots of Sibel and Cahit make their emotions nearly palpable and offer a degree of understanding and incite into their characters. This approach is consistent until the end, when the characters achieve a developed maturity they lack previously in the film. At this point, the shots of them become more personal and direct. The interplay of the viewer’s perception of the two protagonists makes the film complex and emotionally stirring and though the viewer never entirely gains access to the characters. The end shares a degree of understanding between the characters and the viewer; the characters seem to acknowledge that previously their situations were exaggerated and now they’ve found a feasible reality that the viewer can properly comprehend and empathize with.
At intervals within the film a Turkish band, playing in Istanbul, breaks the narrative. These moments initially seem to make the film disjointed but amidst the chaos that begins to characterize both the characters’ lives, these scenes act as momentary calm. Each interlude signifies a new phase in the narrative, a shift in the characters’ feelings and outlooks. Though at first they seem awkward, by the end these intermissions artfully identify the subtle shifts in character of the two.
The story cannot be perceived as truth; its extremities are too farfetched and make the story difficult for the viewer to experience simultaneously while watching the movie. And yet, there are subtle aspects to both Cahit and Sibel’s situation that accurately reflect the situations of immigrant Turks. By the end, the characters’ developments show a surprising amount of truth considering their melodramatic starts. And the disarray that the characters portray and that the director also incorporates into his editing and filming technique help convey the struggle of the immigrant community. Watching the film, the viewer is caught in the turbulence, both visually and emotionally, and ultimately gleans some understanding of a community that is foreign to not only most Germans but also Turks that haven’t immigrated to a foreign country.