Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"The Edge of Heaven" - a story involving Turkey and Germany, resembling "Babel"

This posting is a review of “The Edge of Heaven” (other translations and titles: “Auf der anderen Seite” – “On the Other Side” – "Yasamin kiyisinda"), 2007, Strand Releasing / Matchstick Factory/ NDR, dir. Fatih Akin, in German and Turkish with subtitles.

Strand has been releasing bigger and more ambitious foreign films (like “The Yacoubian Building”), sometimes with LGBT themes embedded in coincidental stories examining much bigger issues, sometimes set in conservative societies. This film has been compared to “Babel” (dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, from Paramount Vantage in 2006). It demonstrates how events, partially coincidental, can set off “daisy chain” reactions that bring characters from different countries or cultures together. You could call it “karma film.”

The story starts with a kindly young Turkish-born college literature professor (Nejat, played by Baki Davrak) in Bremen, Germany. His reckless father (Tuncel Kurtiz) consorts with a prostitute (Nursel Kose), who has a daughter Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay). The father flippantly remarks that he expects his son (who appears to be single and might be gay) to take care of him. The father accidentally kills the prostitute and goes to prison for manslaughter, and Nejat travels to Istanbul and rents a car, looking around the Black Sea coast (the Edge of Heaven) for the daughter, whom he would like to help. But, unknown to him, Ayten, a political activist, has fled back to Germany, hoping to find asylum. She meets a sympathetic girl Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska) who actually invites her to move in with her mother. They develop a bit of a lesbian relationship, shown as largely “platonic”. But that seems subordinate to the other political issues. The German police stop them and investigate Ayten, who claims legal asylum, but the German courts refuse on a technicality. There is discussion that Turkey is about to join the European Union, whereas Ayten has been part of a radical group protesting the EU. Ayten is deported, and Lotte follows her to Istanbul. Lotte carries a gun, carelessly in a satchel, which some street kids snatch. When she finds then, they shoot her as if they were playing with a toy cap gun. Lotte’s mother travels to Istanbul in grief, and the ending of the film connects her to the kindly professor, who seems to want to stop teaching an live in Turkey and operate a book business. The plot circle is closed.

The movie, which runs slightly over two hours, moves quickly through the long series of events. It’s usually clear what has happened, but the pace is so quick that the scenes lose some urgency. But many scenes are intimate and powerful. Rarely has the underbelly of Istanbul and even rural Asiatic Turkey been shown in so much detail. The sequence where Lotte is killed seems random and rough, and comes across as a shock to the viewer. The film uses a scene with a casket being unloaded from a Turkey air plane and then later another casket being loaded as a visual way to circle to story. The film also opens and almost closes with a little exchange at a convenience store in the Turkish countryside, again to frame the events. There is even a chilling mention of Chernobyl, as if to tell us that while the film tells us a real story, it is really a sequence of events, connected somewhat by coincidence (sometimes excruciating in tragedy) that raises a panoply of political issues. This is a kind of segmented story telling, although here it unfolds in a relatively linear manner.

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