This is the second post in an ongoing series. I plan to blog once a month about a different director whose films are featured in our collection.
I didn’t become aware of the films of Fatih Akin until after spending a month in Berlin a few years back. While his films were readily available here in the United States, they just hadn’t quite landed on my radar. Akin, a German native born to Turkish immigrant parents, often builds his stories around characters of Turkish ancestry living in Germany (or vice-versa in some cases). Since the two countries are not exactly adjacent to each-other, I wasn’t aware how much influence Turkish culture had/has on modern German culture until visiting the country. Afterwards, I felt the need to seek out Akin’s films.
The first film of his I saw was Head On (2004), which also happens to be one of his most difficult films. Don’t get me wrong – I love this movie, and recommend it to anyone who I get the sense might enjoy it. It’s not a film I would recommend to everyone though, but if you’re looking for a love story with some rough edges this film is for you (think of it as a Turkish-German Sid & Nancy with a less tragic ending). The film begins with our protagonists, Sibel and Cahit, meeting in a hospital after both have attempted to hurt (possibly kill) themselves. We quickly learn that Sibel is in need of a Turkish husband to appease her strict family, and Cahit agrees to marry her because he is a drunken mess living in squalor and has nothing to lose. They each get something out of this bargain – Sibel finally gets her freedom, and Cahit gets a live-in roommate who will help with rent and keep his apartment clean(ish). Of course, we know that eventually these two crazy kids are probably going to fall in love, but in the end the story takes a turn into far more challenging territory.
For Akin’s next film, he headed into the documentary field with Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005). In some ways it is almost a follow-up to Head On, a film
filled with a wide range of music, from angry punk to traditional Turkish wedding interludes. The director solicits his friend Alexander Hacke, the bassist from the industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten, to act as guide to the Turkish musical landscape as we check in with genres as diverse as the fast rap of Istanbul, to soulful Romany instrumentals, to haunting Kurdish dirges. This documentary is recommended for anyone with a passing interest in Eastern European music, or really, for music lovers in general.
His following film, Edge of Heaven (2007), is probably his most satisfying film to date. It’s a hard movie to describe, but I’ll do my best without giving too much away. The movie takes place in three separate segments that eventually come together. Half of the story takes place in Germany, half in Turkey, with almost all of the
central six characters spending time in both countries while either searching for each other or trying to redeem themselves. Daughters search for their mothers (and vice versa) and one character’s actions will eventually bring everything more-or-less full circle. The film is as much about the characters though as it is about the cultural exchange happening between the two countries. If you have even a passing interest in films from this part of the world, I recommend giving this one a try.
Next up Akin went in a totally different direction with Soul Kitchen (2009) a delightfully screwy comedy about a guy and his struggling bar (of the title). The film is full of food, music, dancing, romance, and crazy coincidences. Our hero, Zinos, has just be abandoned by his girlfriend. On top of that his bar is struggling, he’s recently thrown his back out, he desperately needs to find a new chef, and his shady brother has just come to the Soul Kitchen looking for a job after being let out of
jail on “partial parole.” Will it all work out in the end? Of course it will! This film is a lot lighter than Akin’s previous features, but maybe after all those challenging pictures he just felt the need to have a good time, which this film definitely delivers.
I have yet to check out one of the director’s first films In July, but look forward to it in the future, along with anything else he chooses to direct.
What about you, fellow movie watchers, what directors do you like? Do you have any favorite foreign films or directors?