Intensity gives way to only brief glimpses of humor or tenderness in Head-On, a cautionary tale about obsession and the clash of cultures. Fatih Akin's seamless 2004 film, screening for free at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday in Middlebury College's Dana Auditorium, never settles for the ordinary. The chief protagonist is 40-year-old Cahit, as portrayed by a mesmerizing Birol Unel. He's a character bent on killing himself with booze. But unlike Nicolas Cage's over-the-top alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas, this longhaired, Hamburg-based German of Turkish heritage subtly peels away layers of anguish.
When an inebriated Cahit smashes his car into a brick wall, he winds up in a mental hospital. His self-pity is interrupted by Sibel (Sibel Kekilli). It seems nuts when this presumably suicidal patient immediately proposes to him, but there's plenty of method to her madness.
A secret hedonist, she hopes to escape the suffocating Middle Eastern code of behavior a Muslim girl is expected to follow. If Sibel continues carousing, she risks an honor killing at the hands of her older brother.
Sibel's solution is a marriage of convenience to Cahit, a fellow assimilated Turk who happens to be twice her age. A woman is always the property of her husband in the Old World way of thinking, so the family will butt out if she becomes a bride.
Initially, the odd couple has no romantic or carnal notions about the arrangement. In return for their loveless wedding, Sibel promises to keep Cahit in beer. She goes out dancing every night and sleeps with a succession of strangers. He drinks, continuing his descent into utter despair.
The more these tormented characters try to adjust to their bizarre status quo, however, the more everything changes. Naturally, no one can escape the wrenching consequences of their illusions.
When Ken Peck started shooting a documentary about Burlington's Intervale four years ago, he assumed the timeline would extend from 1980 to the present. "The area has been used for organic farming during this period," says the Charlotte resident. "But it dawned on us that the old-timers being interviewed were a great asset. The youngest was 76. They remembered a vibrant era, when there was a lot of traditional agriculture -- dairy farms, gladiola farms -- down there."
These narratives altered the focus of his project, which was commissioned by the Intervale Foundation. "I thought it would be possible to show a whole history, back to Indian days," Peck explains.
By last October he had completed two stand-alone pieces -- "The Old Intervale" and "The New Intervale" -- 45 minutes and 28 minutes in length, respectively. Both will be shown beginning at 2:30 p.m. on July 17 in the Intervale Community Barn, near Gardener's Supply. The free event, which includes a 1 p.m. ice cream social, marks the 40th anniversary of the Chittenden County Historical Society.
In addition to venerable talking heads, Peck incorporated archival photographs and camcorder footage. "Nobody had come along before to put this all together," he says. "Now I just have to make the old barn dark enough for a daylight screening."
Two weeks ago Merrill Jarvis III visited New York to inspect the new IFC Center in Greenwich Village and see Don't Look Back, a 1967 documentary about Bob Dylan that was playing there. The Burlington native, who operates the downtown Roxy for the family business, never imagined he'd get caught up in a Big Apple nightmare.
"I was sitting in the back row and a security guy comes in, looking under the seats," Jarvis recalls. "I ask, 'Did you lose something?' And he says, 'Come with me.' I'm wondering, 'Hey, what's going on? I'm going to miss my movie.' In the lobby, five security guys surrounded me."
The Jarvis testimony: "I'm a theater owner up in Vermont."
His accuser's reply: "That'll help you in the end, if it's true."
Union projectionists were picketing the indie art-house, which had hired non-union help. On the way in, Jarvis had stopped to talk to some of the protestors. Always curious about how other cinematic venues are set up, he'd also surveyed the place.
"Turns out that 20 minutes before I got there, someone had called in a bomb threat and they thought I looked suspicious," Jarvis explains, adding that by the time the NYPD arrived, "everyone realized it was all a big mistake. The manager apologized."
The best advice after such an unsettling experience? Don't look back.