For Birol Ünel – The wounds of your body heal but your soul?

An actor died in the Corona days. Turkish-born, German actor Birol Ünel died (age 59) in the hospital, where he was treated. I talked to Unel only once. He became popular in Turkey with his role in Fatih Akin’s “Duvara Karsi/ Head-On” and came to Turkey for a movie. I was sitting alone at a table in front of a pub in Beyoglu, opened the text of the play that I was going to stage, and occasionally taking notes on it and drinking. He came up with a beer bottle in his hand, said “hi” and sat down. He immediately started telling about his pain and ailments. He was opening himself so much that I thought he was monkeing around with me but he was too drunk for it.We spoke a lot, his Turkish was not enough for what he was telling about. Most of our speech was in English, and when he could not explain in English, he was starting to speak in German, but of course I did not understand what he said.

At one point he said, “Do you know Rimbaud?”, and spouted some Rimbaud poems in German, took his beer bottle which I don’t remember how many he had, got up and fell down after he took two or three steps. The waiters ran and helped him until I got up. They tried to take the bottle in his hand but did not give it. He gave me another goodbye sign with his bottle and walked away in the street, faltering. When we soliloquize in real life we do not form grammatically established sentences unlike in novels, plays, movies; they are only thoughts in mind without being sentenced.

But I had a soliloquy grammatically constructed in my mind after Birol Ünel: “This man is walking around like an open wound” which I still remember.

Fatih Akin also had a few sentences about Unel in a broader sense but I can’t remember. Now, while writing this article, I have searched on Google but could not find what he said. I probably did not write the correct keywords. Unel and Akin did very successful movies together as an actor and a director.

I think I saw Birol Ünel first in Akin’s “In July“. He was not in the leading role, he was in the role of the bum in the bar. He was a very charismatic looser. I think this effect was in all his roles, at least in the ones that I watched. Then they rifted and their cinema partnership ended. After his death, Akin wrote in the social media “Sleep in peace, my friend, the light within you always impressed me”. An actor who can open his wounds… It is very important for an actor to be able to open the wounds of his soul which is something that makes his role real. In order to sustain our survival, we need to suppress the wounds of our soul in one way or another and hide them so that they stop bleeding at every moment of our daily life.

Birol Ünel

But in a role, we have to lift their scabs and let them bleed again.When I re-apply to these wounds, I fear “emotional memory” which seems to me that these lead us not to these wounds, but to the pathetic effect of these wounds that we have today. But “sense memory” feels like a quick personal history journey that takes us through these wounds without or partially noticing. That’s why I use the “hot chair” method to activate the “sense memory” when I am working a role or coaching the actors I work with while I am staging a play. When you can bleed the wound in history, it is now up to the coding of the actor and his coach if there is one with him. After coding and placing it in your role, you can use this “sense memory” in every show by speeding it up until it gets worn out.

Birol Ünel was born in Silifke, Turkey from an Azerbaijani father and a Persian mother. The family immigrated to Germany to labour when he was 7 years old. He grew up in Bremen. He graduated from an avocational school and worked as a parquet flooring contractor for a while. In his early youth, he affiliated with communist, anarchist and punk groups and had various conflicts with neo-Nazis. After one of these conflicts, his imprisonment for three years was requested and his deportation from Germany was questioned.Later, he studied acting at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media. His first screen appearance with a small role in Roland Gall’s tv film Strafmündig, 1985. He made his on-movie debut in 1988’s with “The Passenger – Welcome to Germany“, starring film Hollywood star Tony Curtis.

He did theater, he did cinema, and he did television. He also appeared in music videos, such as hip hop group K.I.Z’s “Abteilungsleiter der Liebe.” His debut on stage was in Albert Camus’ “Caligula” as Caligula in Berlin, in 1992. Then Birol Ünel acted the leading role in Debbie Tucker Green’s “Die Nibelungen/ Born Bad” at the Rosa Luxemburg Platz. He acted in the famous Berliner Ensemble, too. He also directed plays, which were theatre adaptations from Baudelaire’s , Rimbaud’s poems at the Tacheles Theatre, of which he was co-founder.

But it’s his work with the highly respected Turkish origin German director Fatih Akin that really boosted his name (Im Juli-2000, Gegen die Wand/Head-On-2004, Soul Kitchen-2009 ). He also appeared in such English language films as “Enemy at the Gates” as well as Turkish films. When he suddenly became popular in Turkey with “Duvara Karsi/Head-On“, he was also promoted to being a star in tabloid press which was against his nature. But the Turkish tabloid press started a smear campaign about him who did not fit the stereotypes they wanted. I watched two of his films that he made in Turkey. Both films were bad where he could not adapt to Turkish actors’ style, he looked like an alien.Among his international movies, there are Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Enemy at the Gates” where he co-starred with Jude Law and Ed Harris, Brooklyn filmmaker Aaron Allred’s mediocre thriller/romance “Not A Love Story“, Tony Gatlif’s “Transylvania” where he spoke four-five languages including Romany.

He was good in his enigmatic Gypsy character. Apart from tv movies and series, Birol Ünel played in 34 future and 7 short fiction movies. In some articles written afterwards, they called him “Turkish Klaus Kinski”. Last year, I read news that his alcoholism was very advanced and he was homeless. I do not immediately worry about such situations as the system has taught us (which includes “thank God I am not in this situation” in people’s worrying as citizens who are compatible with the system and taught to posses). While I was living in Manhattan, two different baggers I chatted with told me that homelessness is their choice. Besides, one of them who was a former senior finance executive, explained this choice with a serious political/economic analysis.

Later, I read news about Birol Ünel that he started alcohol treatment. The last I read about him was the news of his death. He died of liver cancer. “Shake ‘Em On Down” from Furry Lewis’s vocal and guiter to tiriubute fresh memory of Birol Unel Based visual is a photo from a scene of Tales Frey’s performance art “Il Faut Souffrir pour Etre Bell”

This is a facebook article: For Birol Ünel – The wounds of your body heal but your soul? is writen by Mehmet Atak

Turkish Klaus Kinski - For Birol Ünel (age 59) - The wounds of your body heal but your soul? Writen by Metin Atak - Birol Ünel

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