Turkish-German auteur Fatih Akın returns with coming-of-age story

Turkish-German auteur Fatih Akın returns with coming-of-age story

Emrah Güler
Turkish-German auteur Fatih Akın returns with coming-of-age story

‘Goodbye Berlin,’ an adaptation of German writer Wolfgang Herrndorf’s bestselling 2014 novel ‘Tschick’ is a coming-of-age story as two teen boys take a summer road trip with a stolen car across Germany

Turkish-German auteur Fatih Akın’s latest feature “Goodbye Berlin” (Tschick) seems very much to be the bookend to his 2004 magnum opus “Head-On” (Gegen die Wand), which first shot him to global fame. 

In a decade full of feature films that had pleased audience and critics alike, the two films, at first glance, seem to be totally opposites.

“Head-On,” which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival as well as other international awards, was the heart-breaking love story of two lost souls, a soul-baring take on three generations of Turkish immigrants in Germany. But as much as “Head-On” was seemingly devoid of hope, “Goodbye Berlin” is a celebration of life brimming with hope. “Head-On” was a dark film, with night scenes haunting the audience, but the cinematography of “Goodbye Berlin” is defined by sunshine and light.

“Goodbye Berlin” is an adaptation of German writer Wolfgang Herrndorf’s bestselling novel of 2014, “Tschick,” translated into English with the title “Why We Took the Car” and into Turkish as “Yokuş Aşağı.” The novel and the film are coming-of-age stories, as two teen boys take a summer road trip with a stolen car across Germany.

The story focuses on Maik (Tristan Göbel), a shy boy who is not exactly the most popular kid at school and who never gets invited to parties. Andrej Tschichatschow (Anand Batbileg), meanwhile, is the new boy at school. Nobody can pronounce his name, so everyone sticks with “Tschick,” and he is not popular either. But Tschick is unpopular in a totally different way: He is an outsider, a rebel inside, a sleeper on the surface. One summer day, Tschick shows up outside Maik’s house with a stolen car and the journey of a lifetime begins as the two take the road to becoming adults. 

It is difficult to pinpoint Akın’s cinema to a particular genre, style or theme. “Goodbye Berlin” diverts completely from his earlier films. Of course, the constants that make his cinema unique - and Akın an auteur - are intact: Cinematography that blends beautifully with the story, rounded characters, superior acting, and a killer soundtrack.

From soul searching to ‘Soul Kitchen’

“Head-On” might have made Akın a global name in 2004, but he had already been a revered name among European cinephiles since late 1990s with his earlier features “Im Juli” (In July) and “Solino.” Selected by the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine as one of the 10 best films of the year, “Head-On” helped position Akın as the voice of third-generation Turks in Germany, while opening the way for other young Turkish directors to get distinct voices in cinema.

“Head-On” also brought to the fore another trademark quality of Akın’s movies: The incredible use of music. This quality would take the heart of Akın’s next film, “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul” - a tribute to the diversity of the Turkish music scene from arabesque to indie rock and the newly-emerging rap music of the poor outskirts of Istanbul. In that film, Akın traveled with German musician Alexander Hacke in Istanbul and gave an inspiring picture of the changing spirit of Turkey’s music.

“The Edge of Heaven” (2007) featured Nurgül Yeşilçay, the late Tuncel Kurtiz and Hanna Schygulla in a haunting tale set in Turkey and Germany, and became an international success in Europe and U.S. The film went on to win the Best Screenplay award at Cannes and five Golden Oranges including for Best Director.
In 2010, Akın surprised the audience by putting his signature to an uplifting movie - a complete detour from his previous darker films. “Soul Kitchen,” a black comedy on food, music and a bunch of eccentric characters, starred some of Akın’s favorite actors from his previous films: Moritz Bleibtreu (“Solino”), Birol Ünel (“Head-On”), and a few surprising cameos.

Akın’s historical drama on the 1915 Armenian genocide, “The Cut,” competed for the Golden Lion and won a Special Mention award at the Venice Film Festival in 2014, but it was the least liked film in his filmography both among audiences and critics. 

With “Goodbye Berlin,” it seems that Fatih Akın is getting ready to heal the wound opened by “The Cut,” reminding audiences of a kind of cinema that is uniquely his own.