March 4, 2005

Assimilation Toward What?

Head-On and Up and Down, two movies about the impact of immigration on modern Europe, are reviewed by me in The American Conservative of March 28, 2005, available this weekend to electronic subscribers. Here's an excerpt from my review of "Head-On," an exciting Turkish-German film:

In Fatih Akin's funny and disturbing "Head-On," a suicidally glum busboy at a Hamburg punk rock bar, who has almost forgotten his native Turkish, agrees to a fake, sexless marriage to a pretty but slutty Turkish girl. She needs a Turkish husband to move out of her patriarchal father's house, so she can sleep around and take drugs.

"Head-On" begins as a raucous reworking of "The Odd Couple" as a punk romantic comedy. When the bride nicely redecorates her pseudo-groom's squalid apartment, replacing his Siouxsie and the Banshees poster with throw pillows, he snorts, "It looks like a chick-bomb exploded in here." (Modern love stories need these kinds of plot contrivances to delay consummation.) But her Carmen-like promiscuity leads to tragedy and an impassioned coda in Istanbul.

Many pundits advocate assimilation as the sure cure for any problems caused by immigration, but few ask: "Assimilation toward what?" In America, for example, immigrant kids often assimilate toward gangsta rap norms. German culture, still despised and depressed 60 years after 1945, lacks the confidence in its own coolness that African-Americans possess, so Hamburg's hipsters, both German and Turkish, assimilate instead toward the decadent styles of the old London and New York punk scenes.

True-believers in assimilation assume that young Turks educated in Germany will naturally want to write a new Eroica Symphony or found the next Mercedes-Benz, but "Head-On" suggests that they actually want to re-enact "Sid and Nancy," Alex Cox's 1986 classic about Sex Pistols' bassist Sid Vicious and junkie-groupie Nancy Spungeon, the two most worthless people ever to fall madly in love.

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