image, music, connection

keith gallasch: fatih akin, turkish-german filmmaker

Head On, Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul

Head On, Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul

ON THE COMMENTARY TRACKS FOR SOME OF HIS FILMS ON DVD, TURKISH-GERMAN WRITER-DIRECTOR FATIH AKIN REVEALS HIMSELF TO BE A SPIRITED, PLAYFUL PERSONALITY. IT’S NOT SURPRISING THAT HE WAS PURPORTEDLY INVESTIGATED BY GERMAN POLICE IN 2006 FOR WEARING A T-SHIRT WITH A SWASTIKA REPLACING THE ‘S’ IN GEORGE W BUSH, EQUATING THE PRESIDENT’S GUANTANAMO BAY REGIME WITH THE THIRD REICH. THE FEATURE FILM HEAD ON (2003), WHICH BROUGHT AKIN TO INTERNATIONAL PROMINENCE IS A TENSE, VIOLENT, DRUG-SATURATED AND ROCK-FUELLED TALE OF THWARTED LOVE IF, FORTUNATELY, MUCH MORE THAN THAT. AND AKIN PROVOCATIVELY ACCEPTED HIS AWARD FOR THE EDGE OF HEAVEN AT THE 2007 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL ON BEHALF OF TURKISH CINEMA.

But for German cinema Fatih Akin is also a respected figure, an integral part of the country’s film renaissance and one whose films make sense of the challenges of intercultural life. Not surprisingly his films locate themselves physically in both Germany and Turkey, characters travelling between the two in attempts to find lost family, to recover or seek a sense of identity…or flee, or be banished.

Even when portraying extremes, the voluble Akin is a subtle writer-director who generates unexpected narrative developments that test our expectations, who loops time back on itself to re-direct our perspectives, and who allows his fine performers ample time and space to reveal their characters without ever impeding his nuanced pacing. For all their intensity, Akin’s films are inviting meditations on love, kinship and culture.

Fatih Akin was born in 1973 in Hamburg of Turkish parentage and studied Visual Communications at Hamburg’s College of Fine Arts. He made award-winning short features in 1995 and 1996 and a full length feature, Short Sharp Shock in 1998, winning the Bronze Leopard at Locarno and the Bavarian Film Award for best Young Director. Since then he has made the feature films In July (2000), Solino (2002), Head-On (2003) and The Edge of Heaven (2007) which premiered in Australia at the Goethe Institut’s 2008 Festival of German Film and then enjoyed a long cinema release. It won Best Screenplay at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

Akin’s output also includes documentaries: We forgot to go back (2001), about his parents’ migration to Germany, and the feature length Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005), a comprehensive if informal quest to explore Turkish music—on the streets, in bars and clubs, on film and in sacred spaces—filming them as they perform and talk.

Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul features Alexander Hacke of Einstürznede Neubauten as the narrator, onscreen quester and occasional collaborator with local musicians. It’s a characteristic move by Akin to look into Turkish music through the eyes and ears of a German musician who is recording and mixing as he travels the city.

The music is classic Arabic, Romany, Sufi and Kurdish, along with modern derivatives and hip hop, punk and more. There’s much fascinating music to listen to (and more in the added features), often much more idiosyncratic that you’d expect in a rapidly globalising culture, not to mention many an intriguing lyric on unfamiliar topics.

Throughout, there are accompanying, often substantial conversations with the musicians revealing their rich sense of cultural heritage, whatever their idiom, with not infrequent reference to the politics of nationalism and the effects of repression. The street musicians (buskers of a very high order) are some of the most eloquent when speaking of the deprivations of the big city and their romanticising by some popular artists.

Crossing the Bridge is a wonderful cultural document, its subjects ranging from hip hop teens to aged traditionalists (their younger selves glimpsed in archival footage) whose lyrics are vivid. A popular performer, youthful in her 80s, sways, singing “they said the tables were covered in sin/ with the wine of lovers.” Not least, the film is a great introduction to Istanbul, lovingly filmed in a manner as far from touristy or standard documentary as you could imagine, taking time out to gaze at tired buildings, thoughtful inhabitants, langorous pets and beautiful streetscapes behind the city’s iconic facades. This is a film you want to to return to again and again.

Madman Music has provided RealTime with six DVDs of Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul to give to our readers, and six copies of Fatih Akin’s feature film Head-On the soundtrack of which includes traditional Turkish music, and songs from Depeche Mode, Sisters of Mercy and Talk Talk. Head On’s tale of an impossible love relationship borne of coincidental suicide attempts is as moving as it is tough-minded, heading towards a sad resolution as wise as it is despairing. As ever, Fatih Akin’s melding of image and music is fundamental to the power of his filmmaking.

Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul, director, writer Fatih Akin, Madman Music DVD; Head On, writer, director, Fatih Akin, Madman Music DVD. www.madman.com.au

The Madman DVD of Akin’s The Edge of Heaven will be available for rental from October 9.

RealTime issue #87 Oct-Nov 2008 pg. 26

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2008
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