Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Edge of Heaven

The Edge of Heaven (international English title) (original title German: Auf der anderen Seite, Turkish: Yaşamın Kıyısında) is a 2007 Turkish-German film written and directed by Fatih Akın. The film won the Prix du scénario at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. It is selected for Germany's entry to contest at the 2007 Oscar.

After making its worldwide debut at Cannes Film Festival in France, the film was shown at several international film festivals. Its nationwide start in German movie theaters is on September 27, 2007.

German cinema has long been neglected by the Cannes Film Festival. In the last ten years only one German film was shown in competition, Hans Weingartners The Edukators (Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei) in 1994. Perhaps they were right to show so little of German cinema because most films in that era just weren't good enough, although not showing The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) last year may be seen as a wrong decision, with the film going on to win an Academy Award and having more than 1.4 million spectators in France this spring. And this is not the only German film being released in France . More than a dozen titles were shown on French screens in the past twelve months. So it doesn't come as a surprise to have a German film in competition this year, Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite), which won the award of the Ecumenical jury.

Fatih Akin is a wanderer between two worlds, born in Hamburg but of Turkish parents. In the official Cannes catalogue he is listed as having Turkish nationality, while other sources say he is a German citizen, he probably has both nationalities. All his films deal with German-Turkish relations and especially the experience of Turkish born Germans (all except Solino, which is also an immigration story but with Italians as the main protagonists). In his biggest success yet Head On (Gegen die Wand) which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Festival, he told with passion and fervor a doomed love affair between Germany and Turkey. The Edge of Heaven is (in his own words) a rather “intellectual film”, one that reflects rather than shouts its message out.

One of its main protagonists is a professor of German literature, Nejat, of Turkish origin who is fully integrated into German society. He is the observer of the things happening in the film. What is happening is rather morbid. The film has three chapters; the first one is titled Yeter's Death, the second one Lotte's Death, only the third one is called On the Other Side which is identical with the German title of the whole film. Yeter is a Turkish woman who is killed in Germany. Lotte is a German woman who is killed in Istanbul. Both women are killed by Turkish males, who display their kind of machismo. Yeter is killed by Nejat's father, who had bought her services as prostitute. Normally a genial man he kills her in a blind rage after a slight dispute. Lotte is killed by a child, a young boy who finds a pistol with which he targets Lotte rather playfully and killing her after pulling the trigger.

Both stories are intertwined, because Lotte was a friend and lover of Ayten, who was the daughter of Yeter. Ayten is a left wing political activist in Istanbul, who flees to Germany after being threatened by the police. She seeks her mother (who is then already dead), meets Lotte, but is later arrested by the police and sent back to Turkey as an illegal alien. There she is arrested at once; Lotte is in Istanbul to help her, when she dies.

The third act brings the relatives of the two killed women together. Lotte's mother comes to Istanbul and meets Nejat, who now runs a German bookshop. Together they help to free Ayten who is eventually released and helps Lotte's mother to mourn her daughter. And Nejat has to come to terms with his father who after being in prison in Germany for the manslaughter of Yeter is also expulsed from Germany and lives now in Trabzon on the Black Sea, the city of his (and Nejat's) ancestors.

The Edge of Heaven is a film burdened with plot. Fatih Akin has written a very precise script which tries to cover as many aspects of Turkish and German relations as possibly. Women and men, parents and children, police and citizens – all these combinations are studied, not only for one nationality but for two. But the weight of the film lies on the Turkish side. The only Germans in the story are Lotte and her mother. So Fatih Akin's film is rather a study of Turkish emigrants coming to terms with their Turkishness. In the beginning, Nejat is a perfect German professor, who quotes Goethe perfectly bus isn't able to identify popular Turkish pop songs. His homecoming — first to the westernized Istanbul and later to the more traditional Trabzon — is the most important theme of the film. However, one point to criticize in the script is the easy way a professor gives up his rather well paid job for a little bookshop in Istanbul which can't earn him much money. The other characters are variations on the Turkish experience in Germany: Ali, Nejat's father, is a first-generation immigrant, who speaks very good German but has never forgotten his Turkish ways. If he needs a woman he buys one, and if she isn't doing what he wants, he beats her. Nonetheless this old man is shown as a positive figure; his murderous rage comes as a surprise, particularly after he had had a heart attack. He's one of the people thrown out of their way by emigration. Ayten is a modern Turkish woman, fighting for human rights and freedom of speech. It is never really explained which political group she belongs to. At a rally posters with the face of Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish Worker's Party are shown, but Ayten is never referred to as being Kurdish. She is a victim of Turkish state brutality executed by the police (in uniform or plain clothes) who seem rather to be part of a police state, than of a democratic community which wants to be a member of the European Union. All Turks in the film are rather unimpressed by Europe, only Lotte's mother sees hope in a future membership of Turkey in the EU.

So, The Edge of Heaven is a rather political film which denounces the Turkish society of today without having a solution to all its problems, besides maybe in a very personal way for every person. The big theme of the film is alienation, people not being at home in the way they live or where they live. If there is a message in The Edge of Heaven then it is that everybody must find their own place in society, whether it be in Turkey or Germany , but with the underlying urge that everyone feels most comfortable when he or she is at home. The tragedy of Fatih Akin's film lies there, that most of his protagonists don't have one home, they are wanderers between two worlds (like himself) and are so doomed to also have to invent themselves anew.

It is giving nothing away to reveal that a pair of fatalities take place in Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven, since these events are announced long before they happen by two of the film's three chapter headings, 'Yeter's Death' and 'Lotte's Death'. For those familiar with the director's previous features, such dark portents will come as no surprise: from his Scorsese-influenced gang melodrama Short Sharp Shock (1998) to the hardcore masochistic romance Head-On (2004), Akin has made murder and mortality central pillars of his oeuvre. Indeed, the ways in which Turkish prostitute Yeter and German student Lotte suddenly meet their maker bear an uncanny resemblance to two incidents in Akin's earlier feature, as they fall foul of the drunken brutality of a possessive lover and the casual violence of street thugs in an Istanbul alley respectively. Here, however, the alley is no longer dark and ominous, a place where no sane woman would walk at night, but rather it is sunlit and serene; and fists fly not in a seedy bar, but in a quiet suburban home.

Such changes are consistent with a general shift in tone between the two features: where the violence of Head-On was a shocking assault on its spectator, The Edge of Heaven is a softer, more haunting film. Billed as the second instalment in the director's 'Love, Death and the Devil' trilogy, it offers a technically accomplished and deeply compassionate meditation on loss and consolation, as its mosaic narrative follows the intersecting lives of six characters travelling between Istanbul and Hamburg. These include Nejat, a professor of German at Hamburg University, Ayten, a political refugee fleeing her native Turkey, and the conservative, middle-aged Susanne, who travels to Istanbul in the wake of her daughter's death. As in Akin's earlier works, the numerous instances of intercultural exchange throw up insights into the dynamics of east-west relationships, but these are, for the most part, observational and incidental - bumps rather than clashes of culture. Only Ayten's flight to Hamburg is imbued with any sense of menace, and in this respect Akin does well to emphasise (albeit clumsily) the fact that Turkey is yet to join the EU, thereby allowing the spectre of torture to loom large. Sexual, religious and economic imperatives are otherwise ignored in a film that seems decidedly sunny in its political outlook compared with works such as, for example, Michael Haneke's Code Unknown (2000) or Ulrich Seidl's forthcoming Import/Export.

Far from being a failure of naturalism, however, one senses that this whitewashing of the more unsavoury aspects of "the new cold war", as the director terms it, is one of the film's strategies for presenting a vision of hope for contemporary continental relations - a vision that extends to the film's mise en scène, with DP Rainer Klausmann's colour-saturated cinematography (a dramatic about-face for him from the penumbral Head-On and Downfall) replete with postcard visions of its twinned cities, in which even a prostitute's pastel pink underwear blends with the wall she leans against. If politics are pushed to the edges, then, it is perhaps because for Akin, cultural dislocation is both a symptom and the cause of a much deeper-seated spiritual dislocation, whose remedy can only be found in the Forsterian connection with other human beings for which the film's divergent cast of characters struggle. Criticism has been levelled at The Edge of Heaven's somewhat contrived plot twists and conventional melodrama, but in a film that sees a homeless Turk approach a stranger for cash and receive not only a meal but board and bed (a shared one, no less), it is clear that authenticity matters less than optimism - and The Edge of Heaven is no worse for that.

No comments: