Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juli 2006

6.1. Modalitäten von Kulturkontakt
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Gertrude Durusoy (Ege Universität, Izmir/Turkei)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Fatih Akin’s Cinema: A World Without Borders

Oya Dinçer Durmuş (Mugla University)


Fatih Akin, a German born Turkish originated film director, has established himself as a promising young artist with his impressive films which concentrate upon the relationships among people of different national and cultural backgrounds in ethnically diverse environments. He was born into and grew up in a home in which two languages and two cultures existed side by side and inevitably an ongoing dialog developed between them. Thus, both as an individual and as an artist, Akin is at home in two different languages, two cultures and ways of life. As a result of this experience, his cinema directly deals with various forms of cultural encounters and contacts in today's multicultural world.

A deeper examination of Fatih Akin’s films reveals that the largely used classification of "migration cinema" by the media to depict Akin’s films is quite insufficient, for although his cinema deals with experiences caused by migration, it does not focus on the experience of migration itself. His area of concentration is not one’s departure from one’s native country because of economic or political reasons; he is interested in and concentrates upon the cultural encounters and the resulting conflicts once people resettle in a new and unfamiliar environment and begin to struggle with the challenges of a different and unknown world. He is particularly interested in the experiences of the members of the first generations born in the new country but raised by the native traditions at home while being exposed to the traditions and culture of the place where they actually live. He claims that since he was born and grew up in that kind of environment, it is only natural that his cinema has been nourished by this environment. He draws attention to the fact that approximately fifty per cent of the world’s population end up living in places other than their native lands. He suggests that it is quite understandable for these people to make films that are based on and convey their own experiences. Akin is not inclined to categorize this group of films under the title of the "immigration cinema"; he maintains that this kind of cinema is being called as "world cinema" nowadays (

As we know, Akin was born in Germany into a Turkish home and family and therefore his experience encompasses cultural encounters and conflicts and he prefers to deal with the issues and problems on which he has first-hand experience.(2) Since he is a not from the generation of the Turks who went to Germany in groups in search of better economic opportunities and better lives, he does not attempt to tell their experiences and the difficulties they had encountered. It is a choice that he consciously makes and thus his cinema gives representation and voice to the experiences of his own generation. It becomes obvious that his generational and personal experience of being bilingual and bicultural nourishes him both personally and artistically. Instead of being caught between cultures, he freely moves between his two cultures, Turkish and German, and uses the space in between as his particular field of exploration and recreates the peoples and the experiences of this particular space in his artistic imagination and then reflects them on the screen. In this process, he examines and reflects upon the experiences of his community as well as his own personal experiences. Ethnic and cultural differences resulting from the condition of being a minority are some of the issues he recreates in his films. His cinema demonstrates his belief that, in today's world, identities, individual and cultural/ national, are not static. They are constantly remade as people experience cross-cultural relationships.

Akin’s 1998 Short Sharp Shock is his first long film; also, in this film, Akin is both the script writer and also plays one of the characters. In this movie, Akin thematizes the complex relationships of people who come from diverse national and cultural backgrounds but have to live together in ethnically mixed and culturally complex environments. He represents and examines the multi-ethnic social composition of urban Germany in the relationships of three young men, namely, Turkish Gabriel (Cebrail), Serbian Bobby, and Greek Costa. Gabriel, son of an immigrant Turkish family, and his friends, Serbian Bobby and Greek Costa, lead dangerous lives as members of a district gang in Antona in Hamburg. Gabriel is caught by the police and serves his time in jail; this experience helps him to reevaluate his life, and in this process, he attains some maturity. During this period, his ideas concerning his future change significantly and when he is released, he is determined to live the rest of his life within the limits of legality; he wants to work, save money, and when he is ready, to return to and start a new and peaceful life in Turkey.

Bobby, on the other hand, has different dreams. He plans to further his position in the mafia and expresses his admiration for the established gangsters at every opportunity. To fulfill his dreams, to everybody’s surprise, he starts working with an Albanian. This is a move that furthers his position since his partner is a leader in his own circle; yet, his friends find this partnership between a Serbian and Albanian difficult to understand. Costa, a compassionate young man, expresses his feelings through singing Greek songs. Costa’s singing can be interpreted as his way of connecting with his native culture and native land. Thessaloniki, his home town, where has never been to, is embodied in his songs and gives him a sense of belonging. Where he is, however, Costa continues to live by stealing; yet, neither himself nor his girlfriend Ceyda, who is Gabriel’s sister, is happy with this life. Eventually Ceyda breaks up their relationship and starts a new love affair. Gabriel does not interfere with his sister’s life and supports her decisions and remains behind her.

Bobby’s death comes all of them as a shock and the film ends with disillusionment for these young people who live in the space between their native cultures and the culture of the place where they were born and grew up. While concentrating on the relationships among these young people, the movie foregrounds the effects of their in-between situation on their identity development and on their attempts to shape their lives. As Karin Hamm-Ehsani maintains, "the film raises questions about the way cross-cultural social context mold individual processes of self-definition and determines subject agency and about how individuals in this liminal state of inbetweenness negotiate and reconfigure their assigned positions" (101).(3)

In his 2004 movie Head On, which received Golden Bear in Berlin Film Festival, Akin is both the script writer and director. According to Akin, Head On is a love movie; yet, it is also a movie which holds light upon the dilemma of the conflicting cultures that has to exist in the same space. The movie focuses on the story of a young Turkish woman named Sibel. In her early twenties, Sibel is trapped between her individual longings and the limitations placed upon her by her family members, who try to keep their native traditions alive in a foreign land. Since she cannot live independently and is not allowed to leave home, she attempts to kill herself by cutting her wrists. While she is in hospital, she meets Cahit, a loafer in his forties, who had completely lost appetite for living and hence tried to kill himself by driving his car into the wall head on. Although originally he is from Turkey, Cahit had lost his Turkish cultural identity to such an extent that he cannot even speak Turkish anymore. Therefore, he certainly is not a typical conservative Turkish man who would have traditional expectations from and place such demands upon a woman. A quick-minded woman, Sibel thinks that by convincing Cahit to marry her, she can free herself from the pressures of her family and thus live her own life. Eventually, she manages to convince both parties, Cahit and her own family, and marries Cahit.

Their marriage is limited to sharing the same apartment and they go on with their own lives. Sibel immensely enjoys her newly gained freedom, which includes sexual freedom as well. Yet, it does not take them long to realize that they are falling in love with each other. Meanwhile, one of the men Sibel had an affair with, the Greek Niko, harasses her and when she rejects him telling him that she is a married woman, Niko challenges Cahit at a bar and in the fight that follows, Cahit kills Niko and goes into jail. What keeps him alive in the jail is the love he feels for Sibel. While he is in jail, Sibel has to leave the country, for his brother is determined to kill her because of her ‘immoral’ behavior. She goes to Istanbul to wait for Cahit to be released. Although Cahit follows her to Istanbul after he serves his time, she has a new life there and they cannot reunite. Cahit leaves Istanbul to go to Mersin, his home town, a place he does not remember at all and whose name he cannot even pronounce. In the end, the place he chooses to go when he thinks he has come to the end of his choices is his place of origin, the place where he possibly hopes to find his roots and to put an end to his rootless existence.

In both movies there are striking common features. Firstly, it should be emphasized that they are not directly migration movies. Actually, it is better to say that they are films which examine the possibility and the ways of surviving in societies in which the children of foreigners (immigrants, or guest workers as they were originally called in Germany), although they were born and grew up there, are still perceived as aliens, as outsiders, as Others, and are treated accordingly. In a recent interview, "we look at Germany through our family’s perspective as a Turk and we look at Turkey as a German," says Fatih Akin. He continues: "Therefore, we do contain both identities; as a film maker, it is a rare chance for me to be able to grasp both cultures from inside; but at the same time, it also brings a sense of not belonging to anywhere. . . . Thus, double identity is accompanied by artistic productivity," (my translation).(4) This condition of being simultaneously an insider and an outsider in both cultures, in other words, "this liminal state of inbetweenness," (5) enables him to perceive and explore the hardships young generations encounter and the anger they feel as a result of finding themselves trapped between cultures. Their search for identity is always accompanied by a search for roots and for a safe haven where they can remake themselves.

The characters in Akin’s Short Sharp Shock and Head On share a deep longing, which is to change their lives, which basically means to escape from the in-between space they occupy. The setting and the music contribute significantly to foreground their liminal situation. When the interior settings are examined, it is observed that the homes of these people combine two cultures; from the outside they are German, from the inside they are decorated as Turkish homes. These people watch Turkish channels on T at home and the places of entertainment they go to are restaurants or cafes which belong to Turkish immigrants. In both movies, the music connects with the themes employed and it highlights them. Turkish music and Turkish lyrics function both to draw the audience into the movie and at times to create an effect of defamiliarization. They are used to reveal the emotions and inner worlds of the characters as well as to remind the audience the ethnic roots of the characters. The weddings in both movies take place in Germany; yet, as social and cultural rituals, they are traditional Turkish wedding in every detail such as the music, clothing, gift-giving, dancing, etc. Socially and culturally, the families portrayed in both movies are traditional, androcentric, and patriarchal families and the older generation’s futile attempt is to keep the members of the young generation within the value system of their native culture. Therefore, conflict and the resulting tension between generations are inescapable.

As cultural and artistic productions, Akin’s films are strengthened by his bicultural experience and identity, which are products of his powerful ties with two conflicting cultures and which develop out of a cultural encounter and result in cultural complexities, the issues that he deals with in his above-mentioned films. Akin asserts that "he does not like borders"; yet, his artistic productions examine the very borders which certainly serve to separate; but the same borders may also be perceived as meeting places; it is this double function of the borders that Akin has been exploring in his films. Therefore, his cinema creates worlds without borders.

© Oya Dinçer Durmuş (Mugla University)


(1) My translation .

(2) Akin rejects the idea of classifying people. He explains that as a Turk born in Hamburg, he was inevitably shaped by the culture of the place. He emphasizes that he feels himself neither a Turk nor a German; his own identity, he claims, is different from both identities [my translation]. (

(3) Kültür ve Iletisim. Culture and Communication. 2005 8(2) Yaz/Summer. 101-110.

(4) (

(5) Hamm-Ehsani, Karin. Kültür ve Iletisim. Culture and Communication. 2005 8(2) Yaz/Summer. 101-110.

6.1. Modalitäten von Kulturkontakt

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