Head-On (Gegen die Wand) (2004)

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Released 15-Mar-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Deleted Scenes
Featurette-What is an Osman? - Documentary
Featurette-Making Of-And Interview With Fatih Akin (Director)
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 117:00 (Case: 121)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Fatih Akin
Bavaria Film Int
Madman Entertainment
Starring Birol Ünel
Sibel Kekilli
Catrin Striebeck
Güven Kirac
Meltem Cumbul
Zarah McKenzie
Stefan Gebelhoff
Francesco Fiannaca
Mona Mur
Ralph Misske
Philipp Baltus
Hermann Lause
Karin Niwiger
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Lisa Carbon
Marc Chung
Andrew Eldritch

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes, Consistent with characters.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The themes of cultural displacement and aching loneliness are common in modern German cinema. Perhaps it's the combination of sleek modernity and dark grunge that make the location particularly apt. In Fassbinder's Fear Eats the Soul it's a young black Moroccan marrying an elderly German woman. In Wender's The American Friend it is an American cut off from his homeland and deep in trouble.

    In Fatih Akin's Head On (Gegen die Wand) it is two Turks living in Hamburg and each facing their own sense of cultural dislocation. Cahit (Birol Unel) is a shabby loser leading a semi-existence on the edge. Driven to emptiness by the death of his wife he is a glass collector at a local bar. Fuelled by drugs, drink and desperation he attempts suicide one night and finds himself in hospital. There he meets Sibel (Sibel Kekilli) another suicide attemptee. Her problems are clear from the first time we see her. Proudly traditional, her family see her as a source of shame. The cultural confines are such that she cannot meet non-Turkish men without fear of a beating from her brother.

    In a bizarre twist on a well-worn comedic idea Sibel pursues Cahit with a simple plan. If he will marry her then she will clean up his house but otherwise keep out of his way. Her payoff? The ability to sleep with as many men as she wants because as a married woman she will no longer be watched. Cahit, who can't think of love without coming over all gloomy, is less than reluctant. He is comfortable in his depression and expresses himself sexually in occasional aggressive physical encounters with a fellow barfly. His change of heart comes when Sibel uses the lure of beer to get him to discuss it. She then gives him a demonstration of the terrible consequences of failing to let her get what she wants. This seals the deal.

    In a series of scenes both funny and frightening, the drug-addled Cahit prepares for his traditional Turkish wedding. Nuptials over, the couple go about their plan. Sibel indulges freely in men and Cahit stumbles on, with his rubbish tip of an apartment looking much cleaner.

    In one of the film's few obvious plot turns, Cahit surprises himself by falling for his young wife and it is the jealousy of her meaningless flings which comes to dominate the story. Able to care for him deeply, Sibel nevertheless cannot bring herself to love him for fear that her life will go back to being male dominated.

    At turns tender and violent, Head On is a bracing examination of a love that can't possibly work with two characters so out of rhythm with each other's feelings and desires that tragedy seems to lurk around every corner. Director Fatih Akin says that he originally visualized the film as a comedy and traces of that design can still be seen in the finished product. But Head On is an altogether darker love story. Each act of the story is introduced by a performance from a Turkish orchestra playing what the singer calls "tragic gypsy songs". Whilst this idea worked well in There's Something About Mary and Mighty Aphrodite it seems out of place in this hyper-real film.

    Young director Akin has coaxed strong performances from his cast. Unel is a shambling wreck and even a make-over for the wedding can't hide the ravages of his hard life. Kerkilli, in her first serious role (sensationally, after winning Best Actress at the German Film Awards she was outed as a porn actress), gives Sibel an intensity that drives home both the love scenes and the intense drama. The setting for most of the movie is the seedier parts of Hamburg and Akin gives his characters a post-punk gothic gloom world to inhabit which certainly suits Cahit. If the film has a major problem it's in the third act where the location changes to Turkey and Cahit is absent for valuable screen time. The climax is also lacking in real drama given some of the heights we have been taken to leading up to that moment. Head On was a major success in Germany and won the Golden Lion at the Berlin Film Festival as well as a host of other awards. It's not a perfect movie but lovers of foreign cinema should find much to enjoy.

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Transfer Quality


    Head On was shot in 35 mm at an original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. According to the DVD case it should have an anamorphic widescreen transfer. Instead, we are given a non-anamorphic treatment letterboxed at 1.85:1 for 4x3 viewers. This is a strange choice and a disappointment for a film that otherwise looks so good.

    Given that the film is deliberately grungy in its environments and outlook it is somewhat of a surprise that this DVD is so visually appealing. The colours are clean and attractive. The film was made in 2004 and has no blemishes or artefacts of any kind. If I was being harsh I would suggest that the chorus scenes are a little washed out.

    The flesh tones are good with Cahit's unhealthy pasty complexion contrasting with the pale beauty of Sibel.

    The film is in a combination of Turkish and German with some occasional English thrown in for good measure.. The subtitles are clear and easy to read but are burned onto the print.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Head On is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kbps) Turkish/German.

    This is perfectly adequate for the dialogue which is clear and easy to hear and appears to be in sync. However, it is a disappointment that there is no surround mix as the film uses a good deal of music for effect and I yearned for a more expansive sound. In particular there is a key scene at 40.39 where Cahit and Sibel dance to the Ofra Haza mix of Temple of Love by Sisters of Mercy where I found myself wishing the amp went up to 11! The whole film is punctuated by post-punk classics like this as well as other music and the lack of surround is a sad omission.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     The DVD contains quite lengthy extras.

Main Menu Audio

    The main menu is accompanied by a photo from the wedding scene and a version of Talk Talk's Life's What You Make It


    These are a series of roughly edited outtakes from the film. They are so rough that it is difficult to really know what is happening.

Deleted Scenes

    There are 16 deleted scenes from the movie. These scenes are quite interesting although I must point out that only the scenes in German are subtitled. The Turkish scenes are not. Most of the scenes could safely have been deleted but I felt that a couple of the last scenes in Turkey between Cahit and Sibel gave greater depth to their relationship and could easily have been left in.

Featurette - What is an Osman?

    This is 8.00 minutes of your life you will never get back. It focuses on a description of a Turkish thug stereotype despite the fact that the character appears in only one short but violent scene from the film.

Featurette-Making Of

    This is an unusual and sometimes intriguing Making of feature. It was apparently completed by the work experience boy on the film and is really just a travelogue and eavesdropping on the creative process. I did find it fascinating to learn that Unel had left Turkey without completing compulsory military service and the Turkish parliament had to pass an amnesty before he could return for filming. It is good to watch once although a little too long for the amount information it imparts.

Theatrical Trailer

    The trailer is interesting but not essential viewing.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version apparently has an anamorphic widescreen treatment which would be nice to see. The sound is the same. However, one review suggests that there may be a problem with the source print of the Region 1 release having been taken from the German release of the movie without accounting for local differences resulting in some blurring in the paused image and some overlapping of the image in fast motion sequences, both of which could be very distracting. This is not a problem in the Region 4 release.

    A review of the English Region 2 release suggests that this has the benefit of anamorphic widescreen treatment without any visual problems. The sound is still the same but it includes in place of the features above two different features - a commentary track with writer-director Fatih Akin and editor Andrew Bird - and Fatih Akin's short film "The Evil Old Songs".

    I cannot comment on the quality of those features above those on the Region 4 release.

    Apparently the German version of the movie has surround sound but no English subtitles.

    For enthusiasts of this movie wanting the widescreen experience the Region 2 release would seem to be the best although others may be satisfied with the Region 4 DVD.


    Head On is as strong as love stories go and some may be put off by the squalor and violence. But beneath the dark exterior is a compelling movie about the difficulty of finding love amid cultural isolation. Although the sound and vision decisions of the transfer are slightly perverse the film is of high quality and is a deserved winner of the Golden Lion. It comes highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo DV-SP300, using Component output
DisplayNEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1

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