A strong sense of unbelonging was prevalent in the films

As global enterprise steamrolls the world into a homogenised identity, perspectives on belonging, isolation and marginalisation become all the more fascinating. Take the films Head On and The Hole screened at Collective Chaos last weekend for instance. While the first illustrates the neither-here-nor-there sentiment of Turkish immigrants in Germany, the second reflects the sense of isolation felt by the fringe populations of the new Thai economy. Despite the different contexts the feeling of unbelonging is strongly prevalent in both films. Head On, by Turkish director Fatih Akin, begins like a romantic comedy. The sham marriage between Cahit (Birol Unel) and Sibel (Sibel Kekilli) sets the stage for a predictably quirky romance. The progress of the film is anything but predictable.As their relationship travels a twisted path complete with murder, forced sex and brutal assault. The basic plot of a bitter romance, is executed masterfully. However, what transports the film to greatness and merits the Golden Bear it won at the Berlin Film Festival 2004 is its nuanced perspective of cultural assimilation and exclusion. Sibel and Cahit originate from distinctly different cultural perspectives. Cahit despises his Turkish origins and lives a culturally disconnected life. Sibel, on the other hand, comes from an oppressive Turkish family strongly rooted in tradition. And the various phases of the relationship are marked by their attempts to break through these barriers. What is most fascinating about Head On is the manner in which the director manages to slip these explorations of identity almost completely under the viewer's radar. The duo find that Germans feel they are a tribal culture pretending at civilisation and the Turks in Istanbul feel Sibel is the outsider who dares to be uninhibited. Quite unlike the innate optimism present in Head On despite the violence in it, a crushing resignation pervades most of Tsai Ming-Liang's The Hole. Set in a fantastic Taiwan of 1999, where a deadly disease called Taiwan Fever has caused sections of Taipei to be quarantined. A strange relationship develops between Lee Kang-Sheng and Yang Kuei-Mei, centred around the hole a plumber makes in Lee's floor in an attempt to fix a leak in Yang's. The desolation of life in the millennial city of Taipei is central to the plot. A soundtrack dominated by the incessant hammering of a days-long downpour coupled with ruthless use of the long take makes the film weigh heavily on the mind. The location, which shifts between an all but deserted market and the near-identical box housing of Lee and Yang, further adds to the brutal realism of Tsai's work. And the incredulity of many of the situations gives the film an oddly hyperbolic feel. At one point, Kang sits on the toilet and holds a bowl over her head to keep a drip off her. At another, she peels wet wallpaper off her walls as she talks over the phone to a likely lover. What completes the utterly surreal setting of the film and highlights the utter isolation of millennial life are the kitschy song and dance numbers interspersed in the film. Tsai's love of Grace Chang, a famous 50s-style performer from Hong Kong, is manifest here as a mischievous juxtaposition of her exotic fantasy sequences with the crippling reality of the protagonists' world. Particularly ironic is the song "Sneezing", which cheerily talks of young men clamouring for her attention even as symptoms of Taiwan Fever are apparent. RAKESH MEHAR