Fatih Akin adapts German rap star Xatar’s autobiography 


Source: Filmfest Hamburg


Dir/scr: Fatih Akin. Germany/Italy/The Netherlands.  2022. 140 mins

It can be hard to accept that Rheingold is inspired by true events. Fatih Akin’s lively adaptation of German rap star Xatar’s 2015 autobiography ’All Or Nothing’  has all the swagger and bombast of something larger than life, and the director’s all-guns-blazing approach is initially easy to resist. When the breathless narrative slows and settles it becomes a more involving film, anchored by a charismatic performance from Emilio Sakraya. Xatar’s popularity, the use of his music throughout and the muscular filmmaking should make for a commercial proposition in Germany where the film is released theatrically on October 27, following a world premiere at Hamburg.

There is something of vintage Guy Ritchie in Akin’s style

The energy and intensity of the film’s first 20 minutes feels like an onslaught. In the Syria of 2010, Giwar Hajabi, aka Xatar (Sakraya) is thrown into a brutal, crowded prison cell and tortured to make him reveal the whereabouts of a stash of stolen gold. The experience sparks childhood memories of his composer father Eghbal (Kardo Razzazi)  and his imprisonment at the start of the Iranian revolution in 1979. 

We are then hustled through the rise of Khomeini, flight, conflict and an indomitable freedom fighter mother Rasal (Mona Prizad)  who takes shelter from falling bombs to give birth to him in a cave swarming with bats. “Your name will be Giwar,” she declares. “Born of suffering.” We have soon made the leap to Paris in 1986 and then Bonn, as the refugee family attempt to make a new life for themselves. All of this is conveyed in the broadest of brushstrokes and subtlety is at a premium.

When the father abandons the family, the young Giwar (Ileys Raoul) starts to assume the role of breadwinner, a path that leads him to pretty crime, drug dealing and a spell at the Cologne Juvenile Detention Center. His decision to avenge himself on the rivals who have beaten and humiliated him also takes him to the gym and a punishing training regime. The Giwar who emerges, now played by Skraya, is handy with his fists and reckless with his safety. His brawny frame, bald pate and moustache give him the look of Tom Hardy’s incarnation of British criminal Charles Bronson.

At this point, Rheingold is pumped up and ready to roll. Akin uses familiar devices, from snappy montage sequences to slow-motion and freeze frame, that either stop the often startling violence in mid-flow or serve to introduce the latest rogue in Hajabi’s gallery. There is something of vintage Guy Ritchie in Akin’s style.

We follow Hajabi’s life of crime from Amsterdam bouncer to cocaine dealer, operating in a world where the really bad guys appear to have their dialogue supplied by Raymond Chandler. Along the way there are reminders of the different life Hajabi might have led. His hard-working, long-suffering mother remains loyal to him and he carries a torch for old neighbour Shirin (Sogol Faghani) who is now studying medicine. The one constant through his many fresh starts is an interest in music, inherited from his father, and a love of rap. It is a determination to start his own label (promising music “by gangstas for gangstas”) and the way he chooses to finance it that sets up an elaborate heist that eventually leads him to that cell in Syria. 

Rheingold is a helter-skelter mix of coming of age drama, heist thriller, chaste romance and origins story for a star rapper. Akin comes up with some striking moments, not least when hoodlums silently gather around a crime boss like the feathered foes in Hitchcock’s The Birds. There are comic elements too as a heist is thwarted by a traffic jam or when Hajabi has to resort to rapping beneath a prison blanket as he covertly records his first album.

This is a very macho, testosterone-fuelled world with most female characters pushed to the sidelines, although Hajabi does change a rap to  acknowledge “mother was the man of the house” when mother points out the misogyny of his lyrics. Emilio Sakraya makes Hajabi a sympathetic, incorrigible bad boy, revealing intelligence, charm and ambition operating beneath the two-fisted tough guy character he has chosen to assume. The film is on more solid ground once he starts to carry the story, and a committed Akin steers it to the finish line as a solidly entertaining stranger-than-fiction biopic. 

Production companies: Bombero International, Warner Brothers Entertainment GmbH, Palosanto Film, RAI Cinema, lemming Film 

International sales: The Match Factory sales@matchfactory.de

Producers:  Nurhan Sekerci-Porst, Fatih Akin, Herman Weigel

Cinematography:  Rainer Klaussman

Production design: Tim Pannen

Editing:  Andrew Bird

Music: Giwar Hajabi aka Xatar

Main cast: Emilio Sakraya, Mona Prizad, Kardo Razzazi, Ilyes Raoul