American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
'Are you Turkish? Will you marry me?" This may not be the shortest marriage proposal in movie history, but it is certainly one of the most sincere. It comes early in "Head-On," a film about two people who would deserve each other, except that no one deserves either one of them. Sibel is a Turkish woman of about 22, living in Germany with her parents. Cahit, who is at least 20 years older than her, is also a Turk living in Germany, which is all Sibel needs to know, because what she needs is a Turkish husband (any Turkish husband will do) who can take her out of her home and the domination of her father and brother and the threat of being married off to a loathsome man of their choosing.
Not that Sibel is a prize. Her wrists are scarred after suicide attempts, and she meets Cahit in a mental institution, where he has been taken after driving his car into a wall at full speed. Not a promising couple. She explains the deal: She will cook and keep house for him, do his laundry, and stay out of the way. He doesn't have to have sex with her, and she gets to have sex with anybody she wants. This sounds like a good enough deal to Cahit, who desperately needs a housecleaner (and a bath and a haircut) and is getting all the sex he needs from a buxom hairdresser who hangs out with him at the sleaziest saloon since "Barfly."
Cahit (Birol Unel) and Sibel (Sibel Kekilli) are played with a deadpan self-destructiveness that sometimes tilts toward comedy, sometimes toward tragedy, sometimes simply toward grossing us out. Cahit picks up the empty bottles in a bar in return for free drinks, uses cocaine when he can get it, is morose about the unexplained loss of his first wife (maybe he misplaced her), and is a sight to behold when he is brought home by Sibel to meet her family. Her father, a bearded patriarch, looks on incredulously. Her brother whispers to the old man that at least Cahit will take her off their hands. To Cahit, he says: "Your Turkish sucks. What did you do with it?" Cahit: "I threw it away."
It is not that he hates Turkish or Turkey; it is that he hates himself. He prefers to speak German because that is the language of the society he moves in, one of garish bars and sudden fights and desperate bloody hangovers. Everyone in his world is a realist with no delusions. I treasured the scene where Cahit's new brother-in-law suggests they all make a trip to a brothel, but is enraged when Cahit suggests that the man return home and sleep with his wife instead.