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The Edge of Heaven: Dissecting another piece of German Cinematic Greatness

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Image If all goes right and the stars align on February 24th, 2008, Germany will win the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars two years in a row and after The Lives of Others in 2007, the golden boy will go to The Edge of Heaven. And contrary to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck this time around the auteur behind the film will actually deserve the honors. Fatih Akin is one of Germany’s finest filmmakers alive today and with a name like that you’d think “Is he really German?” He is, but he is also Turkish, a fact that often comes into play in his movies and does so in The Edge of Heaven as well. And brilliantly so, for who is better suited to portray two cultures than a person deeply rooted in both?

The Edge of Heaven is a challenge in many ways even for European eyes and ears. We are confronted with three languages, German, Turkish and English, two of which are subtitled. We are confronted with three cities, Hamburg, Bremen and Istanbul. We are confronted with two cultures, German and Turkish. And we are confronted with an intricate plot, deeply intertwined in an emotional place somewhere between Germany and Turkey.

But when for American eyes and ears all of this must be confusing enough simply for its unfamiliarity, then add some explicit French kissing between two girls and fellatio performed on a man over sixty and you have your confounded audience and an NC-17 rating. Which is all the better, this is a movie for the thinking adult. It is emotionally dense and lives more off atmosphere than big words.

Writer, director and producer Fatih Akin recently said he found it rather ironic that his film won Best Script at Cannes this year, not because the script isn’t good but because the movie in its final version doesn’t strictly follow it anymore. The first cut Akin did followed the script scene by scene with a chronological timeline, but the end result didn’t satisfy Akin, it looked and felt too much like Babel and didn’t communicate what he wanted to say. So he re-cut the film into three segments, each running about 45 minutes, and at the start of each segment the film goes back in time to a certain starting point. So Akin would find an award for Best Editing more appropriate.

The fist segment is titled “Yeter’s Death” and tells the story of a Turkish prostitute living in Germany who accidentally gets killed by Ali, who in turn had offered her money to stay with him exclusively. Ali’s son Nejat is devastated by his father’s actions and as atonement tries to find Yeter’s long lost daughter in Istanbul. He doesn’t have much hope, but he stays in Istanbul anyway, maintaining a small Turkish-German bookshop.

The second segment is titled “Lotte’s Death”, in which German university student Lotte meets Turkish fugitive Ayten and much to Lotte’s mother’s dismay, the two girls fall in love. But Ayten gets arrested and deported back to Turkey, where she is wanted for illegal political activities. Lotte follows Ayten to Turkey and tries to help her and the political organization Ayten is a part of by retrieving a gun Ayten stole from a police officer. Things take a turn for the worst when some street kids steal Lotte’s purse with the gun in it and she ends up being shot by one of them.

In the third segment entitled “On the other side”, Lotte’s mother Susanne travels to Istanbul and after a few nights in a hotel stays in the room her daughter had rented at Nejat’s house. She takes her daughter’s quest to get Ayten out of prison as her personal responsibility now and eventually succeeds in freeing the girl.

Meanwhile Nejat’s father has been deported back to Turkey as well, where he is staying at a patch of land in the countryside he owns and does a lot of fishing. Meeting Susanne mourning her daughter’s death gives Nejat the final push to take the long drive to see his father, whom he had shunned after he killed Yeter. But he doesn’t find his father, who is out with his boat fishing. So Nejat sits down on the beach and waits while the credits roll.

You can tell from my little summary that there are points where the stories of these people meet, but I have left some major details out for your enjoyment. I fear many people will try to compare The Edge of Heaven with Babel or even Crash, because of the intertwined storylines or the “oriental feel”, but in truth The Edge of Heaven doesn’t have anything in common with either of them. Fatih Akin carefully avoids passing judgment on any one person or on the two cultures he chooses to show, German and Turkish. This movie to me felt more authentic than Babel because of the fact that Fatih Akin himself is German of Turkish decent. He knows both the cultures he portrays in this film, he knows the people. He is able to lay a finger on so many things typically German, typically Turkish and where the two blend.

I want to mention that the movie is called “On the Other Side” if translated literally from German, a much more fitting title, because we are continually on the other side. First with Ali, a Turkish man living in Germany, then with Nejat, a Turkish-born, German-raised man traveling to Turkey, with Turkish woman Ayten fleeing to Germany, with German Lotte coming to Turkey and lastly with German Susanne going to Turkey as well. There are always two sides to every story and Fatih Akin takes the time to tell them both. He leaves out all the big speeches and the dramatic effects, all his characters say only what is necessary and yet communicate volumes. Though Akin does apply the dramatic density needed for a movie, he does so without becoming unrealistic and mostly achieves this with images.

The film is very visually moving, for example with the images of first Yeter’s coffin being transported off a plane in Istanbul and later Lotte’s coffin being transported onto a plane there. And the most interesting shot is of German veteran actress Hanna Schygulla as Susanne Staub in her hotel room in Istanbul. The camera is firmly installed under the ceiling in a far corner of the room and catches the full scope of the baroque-styled space and the lost figure of Susanne, superimposing images of her drinking, lying on the bed, sitting in a chair and collapsing in tears onto the floor. The fact that my own mother was sitting next to me when I watched a mother on screen mourning her daughter’s death didn’t help much and I was crying like a baby during this.

The entire audience at the screening I attended sat through the end credits in complete silence, even though the only sound playing was that of crashing waves. This fact alone should show you just how gripping and moving the film was.

I strongly urge you to take a chance on this European masterpiece if you can catch it anywhere near you (and I also urge you to go out afterwards and find a copy of Akin’s Head-On). The Edge of Heaven has a different style of storytelling than most American movies, especially when it comes to storytelling on the emotional level, but different can be good and especially German cinema is coming along nicely of late. The Edge of Heaven may not actually take you to paradise but it will take you to the other side. And that is always worth the trip.