Fatih Akin’s Im Juli is a rare beast, in that it has survived my film class almost totally unscathed. When you compare this to the unbridled horror that overtakes me when I think about the other, more widely known and usually critically acclaimed works we studied like Badlands, or Lost in Translation (though, to be fair, I hated that one long before we studied it), Im Juli appears mightily impressive. Then again, it might be down to the fact I wasn’t forced to over-analyse or painstakingly dissect it, and thus was allowed to just enjoy it.
The film follows Daniel, an uptight schoolteacher in Hamburg who is set on a journey to Istanbul by Juli, a previously silent admirer who intended to make Daniel believe she was the one for him; instead, he falls for a Turkish woman, Melek, who returns to Istanbul, and Daniel decides to follow her. Juli, meanwhile, decides to leave town and go “where the wind takes [her]”, but as luck would have it, she crosses paths with Daniel again, and goes with him to Istanbul, fixing certain situations and bonding with him in the hope that his affections will turn to her.
Im Juli is, at its core, just a fun romantic comedy. This becomes especially pronounced when compared to Akin’s follow-up, the much acclaimed Head-On. While keeping Akin’s themes of German and Turkish convergence, as well as much of the wit of his dialogue, its backdrop of suicide and depression create a much darker narrative, and though I could appreciate its quality, I couldn’t quite ‘enjoy’ it as such. A perfect film to be studied then.
Juli, though, revels in being fairly shallow in terms of thematic complexities. The signature German/Turk overtones are very apparent, but among the sparkly characters and often-ridiculous narrative turns, one cannot help but shun analysis in favour of simple entertainment. And the film does hit the ridiculous; after a seperation that sees them most likely miles apart, Daniel and Juli just happen to be crossing into Romania at the same dusty old border station. Even more ridiculous is the major plot convergence, where Isa, who picks up Daniel at the beginning of the film and listens to his story, just happens to be Melek’s husband. One can’t help but wonder if, in hearing Daniel’s tale, he ever wondered if the Melek from Istanbul that Daniel was chasing was his Melek from Istanbul. Or perhaps Daniel just omitted names. Who knows?
This is one such criticism of the film I have heard, on top of its other cliches. And yes, one cannot deny it is a film with its fair share of cliche, but the jovial manner in which it approaches them makes it charming rather than cringeworthy. Its unabashedly filmic sensibilities, whether it be a band singing directly to the camera, or the dramatic speech that Juli teaches Daniel that will totally not be the climax of the film, allow the audience to step outsight any thoughts of narrative realism, and just be entertained by the plight of the characters, however not of our reality they may be, and the bizarre situations they get themselves into.
Though the ‘lead’ of the film is Moritz Bleibtreu’s Daniel, he can often seem foolhardy or misguided, causing my empathy (and, for sake of review, the audience’s collective empathy) to waver at times. He often seems like the love interest character of a romantic comedy, rather than the protagonist; one who must come around to the hero’s affections and be convinced of their love. And similarly, one can position Christiane Paul’s Juli as a more traditional protagonist figure: it is, after all, her affections for Daniel, and her attempts to woo him, that cause him to believe Melek is his soulmate and set in motion the events of the film (as a side note, the female lead chasing the male lead is something we rarely see in romantic comedies aside from the chick-flick variety, and is one of the initial reasons I took a liking to the film). Indeed, she is just a much more charming and watchable character, and in the scenes where she and Daniel are separated, the film loses its certain magic; the rave, the nutty dream sequence and the Budapest chase are all thoroughly enjoyable but I still spent them waiting for Juli to come back into the picture. Thankfully, I was confident the title character would not be departing the film merely 40 minutes into it.
That’s not to be said the other characters are unworthy. Isa and Melek, though only featuring heavily at either end of the film, are perfectly suitable in their roles: your impression of Isa seamlessly moves from some arse with a corpse in his trunk to a caring grandson – a “hero” as his fellow Turks at the border station call him for his actions; and unlike many romantic comedies, where secondary love interests can seem completely uninteresting (probably so the audience don’t have a hard time in dismissing them in favour of the lead love interest), you do believe Melek is the kind of woman who could enchant someone as she did Daniel (though, admittedly, with a bit of help from Juli). Similarly, Leo the truck driver, in his brief role, is such a lovely character that even when he starts his ‘dancing’ with Juli, you know exactly how it’s going to play out. But as before, the film takes enough glee in its formula that it only enhances the amusement of the audience to the scene’s resolution.
In the end, the film is exactly what it appears to be. It makes no apologies for its cliches, and is charming enough that we’re not demanding them either. Critics may hail Head-On as Akin’s best, but it takes a very skilled hand to make a romantic comedy like this and not have it come out like an old, worn out slab of predictable plotlines and boring characters. If only all romantic comedies were as effortlessly fun.
(originally posted on The Daily Rupert, May 18th 2011)