Thursday, August 28, 2008

Head-On (Gegen Die Wand)

Every country bears a lot of weight on everyone who is born to it - all the history, the beliefs, fears, errors, successes and a lot more. When you chose to leave it, you also in a way try to offload all these weights and go out empty-handed to adopt something new with more openness. But no country is a new country. There are people already living there, weighed by the being of their nation. You can shed your weights, but it takes years before you can adopt theirs and become equal. That is the dilemma of emigrants - trying to lose and gain different weights at the same time, and stuck somewhere in between. A dilemma often propounded upon, but not always as well depicted and lived as the characters of Faith Akin's German-Turkish movie Gegen Die Wand.
Both Cahit and Sibel are Turkish emigrants living in Germany. Both of them are unhappy, disoriented and sick of their lives, on which they have given up. They meet in a clinic after making failed suicide attempts, and end up in a convenient marriage on Sibel's crazy insistence as she desperately seeks to move away from the dominance of her family and have an independent 'sexual life' as she puts it.
Both live as roommates, and slowly, even through their random and disjointed lives, a semblance of attachment begins to form between them, until they begin to fall in love. But just then a fit of anger lands Cahit in the prison, and Sibel disowned by her family. She moves to Turkey, and Cahit hangs on in the prison with only the thought of Sibel keeping him alive.
Sibel's disorientation in Turkey is almost complete, and it is such a vivid description of how she is more comfortable in the foreign land than in her own country. Even Cahit, when he finally lands in his country, seems to be so out of place and puzzled in being there. There is a scene when he tries to speak to Sibel's cousin in halted English to explain himself, because neither his German and Turkish appear adequate enough for expressing his emotions. That single scene says a lot about the emigrant's confusion.
What I liked about the movie is that even with many dramatic turns, it is a very non-dramatic film. The listlessness and the slow resurrection of both people is subtle and very natural. They are reticent people, never truly giving in to emotion, but more susceptible to anger and depression. There are some very good scenes - Cahit's Head-on in the beginning of movie being one, the English dialogue another. The last scene too, which reminded me of the last scene of Antonioni's L'eclisse in a way - though of course the latter was far more powerful and poetic. The movie is tied together with powerful acting and little dialogue. I found myself both disgusted and sympathizing with the two people who seem to have come unhinged.
Recently, I was also reading Sebald's Emigrants, which is such a subtly depressing but powerful book (as I have found each of Sebald's works to be so far, because he is an incredible writer), and it takes us through the lives of four emigrants. I have only read two yet, and neither of them are dramatic lives, but each life feels so uprooted and restless and unhappy that you could only imagine them waiting for the end.
Also, read a quote recently which sums it up a bit:
we all suffer in our different ways from being prisoners of birth..

5 comments:

Alok said...

I also liked the last section as a whole which actually shows that it is not really just about coming back home and that it will not solve all the problems. These characters are more profoundly uprooted and that is the source of their alienation and disconnection. The english dialogues were also very well-used.

The Emigrants is about forced migration and about the trauma that is associated with it and how it darkens the whole life afterwards if one doesn't deal with it (or as the book indirectly conludes it is perhaps not possible). I don't think one can compare with the migration that has become so common in this globalised world now. I don't want to deny these people their feelings...but there is always this element of choice and if one doesn't take this into consideration it becomes yet another exercise in narcissism. I am not saying that the characters in the film did make purely voluntary choices but one needs to be aware of the degree of coercion involved in any such decision and judge any feelings of that kind accordingly.

Sometime back I recommended Nabokov's Speak Memory to a good friend, a very sensitive and thoughtful person otherwise, saying how great this book was and all that stuff and he comes back to me after reading it and says that he could "identify" with Nabokov because he is also living in "Exile"..yes that's the exact word he used. he is one of those regular IT guys in america!! I felt like bashing my head against the wall. It is true that Nabokov is writing about home in russia as much as childhood in abstract which is always a foreign country but still there was no awareness in my friend's comment how different his so-called exile was from Nabokov's. I know it is not all related but Sebald's mention made me think of all this and also being in a foreign country I just get sick hearing all this hypocritical talk about homelessness and being in exile. I may be returning back to India soon (within the next couple of months) so another reason why I have been thinking of all this.

Madhuri said...

I understand what you are saying - forced migration is cruel and traumatic and infinitely more disorienting than emigrating by choice.
But if you think of it, making a choice to leave your home makes it worse in a way. You bear the brunt of alienation and guilt of your own choice. To have to chose either financial struggle or emigration are sad choices, and there is no right way. Your preference for a better lifestyle will not eclipse or negate the desire for 'home'.

But yes, the idea of an IT professional identifying with Nabokov's exile is laughable. How does choosing a better life be equivalent of being pushed out of your own home and see that home being taken up by someone else.

Szerelem said...

Head On is one of my all time favourite movies, quite honestly. I was just amazed by the range of emotions I went through watching the movie - it was literally sitting next to those crazy people and seeing all the madness in their life. It was an exhausting and emotional film.

Perhaps it was even more moving for me because I read about and follow the issues the film talks about quite a lot - and that helped me appreciate the movie and it's subtleties even more. A lot of people I know didn't like it and I kept wondering if it was because they lacked the context of the movie...

ABHIII said...

Look for 'The Edge of Heaven. It is also a German/turkish film.

Madhuri said...

Szerelem, it is a strong movie, and with your affinity for Turkey and its cultural afflictions, I can imagine why it would be so close to your heart. I read your blog entry about the film after reading your comment here and it was a thoughtful dissection of the film.

Abhii, thanks for your recommendation. I will look this one up.