Volume 77 / Number 52 - May 28 - June 3, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since
1933

Photo courtesy Strand Releasing

Baki Davrak as Nejat Aksu, left, with Nursel Kose as Yeter Ozturk in “The Edge of Heaven.”

Testing the perimeter

THE EDGE OF HEAVEN
Written and Directed by Fatih Akin
Film Forum
209 W. Houston St.
(212-727-8110; filmforum.org)

By Leonard Quart

Born in Hamberg, Germany to Turkish parents, Fatih Akin directed his debut film in 2004. “Head-On,” an emotionally volatile black comedy/tragedy about a mismatched Turkish couple who embark on a sham marriage, received a great deal of critical plaudits, including a prize at the Berlin Festival.

His new movie, “The Edge Of Heaven,” is more serene than “Head-On,” and its violence is more indirect. Akin draws on his Turkish and German upbringing (he views himself as standing “between two cultures”) to examine a Europe where migration is the norm. He even, albeit superficially, examines the question of Turkey’s sometimes fraught relationship with the European Union. The movie doesn’t center on politics or Western European discrimination against immigrants, and in the interwoven lives of the main characters (four of whom are Turkish and two, German) cultural differences play a much lesser role than the connection and division between generations.

Akin constructs an intricate narrative around three distinct but closely related parts, each formally preceded by a heading. The first deals with the alienation between a widower father, Ali (Tuncel Turkiz), and Nejat (Baki Davrak), his gentle, assimilated university professor son (a specialist in Goethe). The distance between them intensifies after the father accidentally kills the sympathetic prostitute Yeter (Nursel Kose) who lives with him. Negat, who has grown to like Yeter then travels to Istanbul to find the daughter from whom she has hidden the nature of her life. His search is fruitless, but he decides to stay and manage a German bookstore.

The second part follows Yeter’s daughter, Ayten (Norgul Yesilcay), an angry member of a Kurdish revolutionary group on the run from the Turkish police after being involved in terrorist activity. In Germany, Ayten searches for her mother, but suddenly becomes homeless and is rescued by meeting up with a blond German student, Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska). She becomes lovers with Lotte, who invites her home. Lotte’s melancholy, loving mother Susanne (Fassbinder’s iconic star, Hanna Schygulla) is justifiably wary of the explosive Ayten, but Lotte is too enamored to listen to her mother’s suspicions. Ayten is ultimately deported back to an Istanbul prison, and an infatuated Lotte follows her.

“The Edge of a Heaven” is a film in which lives intersect, sometimes mesh, or fail to weave together, as the settings shift from anonymous-looking German cities to a strikingly more dangerous and chaotic Istanbul. Consequently, Lotte, having found a purpose for her irresolute life, ends up renting a room in Negat’s apartment, and later so does Susanne, replacing Lotte after her daughter meets a tragic end. Susanne, who we learn as a young woman had been as unsettled as Lotte, then meets a remorseful Ayten (feeling profoundly guilty about Lotte’s death) and offers forgiveness.

It’s a bit too coincidental, but extremely suggestive in its evocation of patterns of separation, reconciliation and redemption. The patterns in “Edge of Heaven” are more interesting than the particular relationships. The film’s characters communicate little about who they are, and we end up caring little about their individual fates. Lotte is too ingenuous to be believed — embracing Ayten without a thought about her personal history and the nature of her political commitments. Ayten’s anti-colonial politics need more exposition given the violent actions she has been involved in, and Negat remains a sweet, emotionally distant presence.

Akin concludes the film with a long static shot of Negat facing a body of water waiting for his father to come back from fishing (he has been deported from Germany to Turkey. We can conjure up all sorts of meaning from his stoically sitting there. He is hoping for reconciliation with his father, and that may or may not happen. But it’s clear that Akin believes in love between parents and children as something that brings us closer to redemption than revolutionary politics or tribal provincialism.

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