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July 16, 2008 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | July 16, 2008 |

Anyone who has visited or lived in Germany will be aware of the tensions existing between natives and the Turkish population, the country’s largest ethnic minority. Beyond the myriad socio-cultural schisms which can be found among any immigrant minority, director Fatih Akin believes the heart of this conflict, and perhaps all conflict, is one of dislocation, both in the literal search for Heimat and the personal search for a genuine selfhood.

Physical and spiritual aloofness form key motifs in The Edge of Heaven, the second film in Turko-German Akin’s ongoing trilogy. His characters are transplants, lacking ethnic, political, or self-actualization, adrift within their own lives. Yeter (Nursel Köse), a middle-aged prostitute in Breman, lives between Old World and New. She doesn’t seem to have any pretensions beyond making a living until two fellow Turks mistake her for a Muslim and order her to decease her moral transgressions under threat of death. She reluctantly accepts the offer of a lonely widower and fellow immigrant, Ali (Tuncel Turkiz), to become his exclusive, live-in client. Ali is something of a boor: crude, stubborn, but essentially harmless until alcohol paves the way for a violent streak of possessiveness. His son, Nejat (Baki Davrak), an eloquent professor of German literature in every way Ali’s opposite, reacts to the pairing with suspicion, but is warmed to Yeter when she tells of a daughter whose education she finances back in Istanbul.

Tragedy intersects the lives of these three, a death which leads Nejat to abandon Germany for Istanbul, where he hopes to find Yeter’s daughter and continue sponsoring her schooling. Somewhat obtusely, Nejat discovers how disaffected he was by his national assimilation, literally teaching Goethe to young Germans. On a whim, he switches places with a homesick German bookseller and tries to reconnect with his ethnic identity.

Meanwhile, Yeter’s daughter, Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay), has becomes a leftist dissident, raging against the Turkish government. Political strife forces her to flee to Germany illegally, where she takes up the search for her estranged mother. Her wanderings unite her with an idealistic student, Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska); the pair fall passionately in love while Lotte’s mother, Susanne (Fassbinder mainstay Hanna Schygulla), looks on with icy disapproval. Ayten and Lotte’s romance is short-lived; Ayten is busted by the Polizei and, after losing a bid for asylum, deported to a Turkish prison. Lotte pursues - her attempts to free her lover lead to a second, symmetrical tragedy.

Akin is, in fact, obsessed with symmetrical storytelling. The implicit characters of both German and Turkish national character act as inverse parallels of one another. Germany, embodied by Nejat, appears as a land of socio-political permissiveness while any kind of emotional fervor is restrained; Ayten’s Turkey, conversely, is politically repressive while giving way to incendiary passions. Both approaches seem to foster isolation toward one’s self and one’s heritage, leaving the characters on a perpetual quest for identity. One wonders why the English title has been changed when the German original Auf der anderen Seite (On the Other Side) so finely captures this binary opposition.

As usual, death acts as the greatest agent of catharsis. The duet of tragedies in The Edge of Heaven, captured wonderfully in scenes with German/Turkish caskets arriving on the airport tarmac, serve to unravel the layers of uncertainty which have accrued on Nejat, Ali, Ayten, and Susanne; new realizations give them peace even as death uproots their lives. Akin allows his mirrored plots to unfold without urgency, making the upheavals of violence and revelation all the more mesmerizing. This is a finely crafted film, perhaps a bit too deliberately controlled, yet galvanized with anger and hope and endless suggestion. Akin displays incredible respect for his audience and his subject, allowing the key plot strands to come tantalizingly close, but never directly weave, and then leaving the story open-ended in an incredibly satisfying manner. He never answers whether or not his characters’ searches can or will be fulfilled, but he shows us that fulfillment is forever possible.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic and book editor for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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The Edge of Heaven / Phillip Stephens

Film | July 16, 2008 |

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