Early Films: Kurz und schmerzlos (Short Sharp Shock, 1998), Im Juli (In July, 2000), and Solino (2002)
Short Sharp Shock is Akin's first feature film. Following the xenophobic attacks on migrants in Germany, the 1990s witnessed the emergence of a new self-consciousness among second- and third-generation Turks in Germany (Halle 2008: 156). Turning away from hitherto dominating representations of Turks as guestworkers in the German media, the focus of the young filmmakers shifted to the migrant underworld milieus of the Tarantino-style gangster genre. Critics of Fatih Akin's early films—Short Sharp Shock, In July, and Solino—all recognized Akin as "turkischstammig" (of Turkish descent), the son of Turkish immigrants born and raised in Hamburg's working-class district of Altona. As Hans-Jorg Rother puts it in his review of Short Sharp Shock in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from 17 October 1998: "Fatih Akin, son of Turkish immigrant workers, is all too familiar with the dark side of the Hamburg scene, and with those left behind by society ... He has, as he confesses, experienced himself more or less what he describes in his films." The emphasis on the autobiographical character of Akin's early films as well as some of Akin's own statements that reinforce and authenticate the autobiographical perception of his films can be found in most reviews of his early films.
Many critics regard Short Sharp Shock as a turning point in German cinema because it is among the first films to depict the life of second- and third-generation migrants in Germany. The stylization of Short Sharp Shock as a "turning point"—despite its attracting only about 8,000 spectators (Halle 2008: 159)—foreshadows the importance of Turkish German film for the marketing of Germany's new national identity. Furthermore, ignoring the fictional character of Short Sharp Shock, the critics focus on the sociological evidence presented in the film, treating it as an authentic milieu study (Halle 2008: 160), thus typecasting Turkish Others in their roles as native informants of "the Turks" in Germany. By emphasizing Akin's Turkish background, the early film reviews tend toward the Turkish side of the hyphen of Akin's cultural otherness, while simultaneously stressing his position between German and Turkish culture. Yet the assumption of a cultural in-betweenness implies a supposed homogeneity of the culture on each side of the "bridge" to which the migrant is relegated and highlights those traits which set him apart from both cultural entities, thus othering him and denying the flexibility of cultural affiliations (Adelson 2005: 152).
Interestingly even though Akin's 2000 road movie In July unmistakably deals with European issues, which might—and should— have invited critics to consider his work in a larger, European context of border crossings, migration, and mobility, it is again Akin's Turkish German background that most reviews emphasize. Focusing on the autobiographical character of In July, the boundaries between "real life" and filmic fiction once more become blurred. Manfred Muller in Spiegel Online (2000) analyzes Akin's sense of humor in terms of national belonging. This is all the more striking because we would typically expect such a line of argument—integration through assimilation— in more conservative newspapers. Muller describes In July as a typical German relationship comedy and does not hesitate to add that one might be pleased to note that the integration of a foreign citizen can indeed go so far that he actually assimilates himself into the native [i.e., the German] sense of humor. This dubious line of argument also underlies the subtitle of his article, "Auch Turken haben einen typisch deutschen Humor" (Turks, too, have a typical German sense of humor).
Birgit Galle's article in Zeit Online (2000) is one of the more progressive contributions dealing with In July as it stresses the film's European dimension. Yet even though Galle explicitly mentions Akin's annoyance at consistently being labeled as Turkish German, she nonetheless does not refrain from the same sort of categorization when she begins her article referring to Akin as "the Turkish Hamburgian." In general, the analyses of In July overlook its European dimension as well as the construction of Istanbul as a field of projections where questions of European and Asian belonging are captured in the image of the bridge.