Friday, August 10, 2007

The Edge of Heaven (2007)

The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin, 2007)

Fatih Akin's middle entry to a still unfinished trilogy (which started with Head-on (2004)) is structured like the ambitious and curiously much-lauded Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004) and Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006). It details the intertwining tales of several German and Turkish men and women, connected either by the countries that gave life to them or adopted them or bits of coincidences. What differentiates The Edge of Heaven to Haggis or Inarritu's sprawling mini-epics of mankind's chronic inability to live with each other, is that Akin values intimacy and control; that the more you widen your canvass, the more it would invite implausibility and lapses at logic (although the film had one: the whole sideplot about the police man's gun seemed illogical; why did the activists need that gun? is it really that special?).

The Edge of Heaven is set both in Germany and Turkey, and delightfully wafts through the incorporeal political and cultural lines that both connect and separate both nations. Set at a time when Turkey is on the verge of joining the European Union, Akin's film brandishes a critical look at the impossibility of uniting Turkey, a schizophrenic country belonging to both Asia and Europe, with the union. Akin only scrapes the surface of that very political issue; he would focus more on the pertinent lives of these characters spirited away from their homelands, confusing themselves with labels such as "a Turkish professor of German language teaching in German university." The overall grasp of Akin's milieu encompasses a wide range of political and cultural undertones, but his intention is much narrower, thus eliminating the mistakes Inarrittu did in Babel.

The producer of the film (who arrived for a very flacid Q & A) tells us that The Edge of Heaven is about death, while Head-on is about love (the third film of the trilogy is yet to be written). I agree. Other than the obvious (the film is divided into three chapters namely Yeter's Death, Lotte's Death and The Edge of Heaven), the film subtly dissects the destructive and redemptory powers of death. The film starts with Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), a Turkish immigrant in Bremen who lives off his pension, getting enamored with Yeter (Nursel Koese), a Turkish prostitute. Ali invites Yeter to live with him and his son Nejat (Baki Davrak), who then becomes eager to help Yeter locate her missing daughter Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay), a political activist in Turkey.

The death of Yeter would be the impetus for redemption and reconciliation, forcing Nejat to go back to Turkey to locate Ayten (who, in what seems to be a Kieslowskian coincidence, happens to be in Germany locating her mother while getting romantically close with Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska)). The series of mix-ups would lead you to believe that Akin is opting for ease and melodrama, yet instead, he paints a vaster canvass --- teasing his audience with the possibility of reuniting mother and daughter, or father and son, but instead leaves us hanging with open-ended conclusions of what could happen.

That final image, a picturesque static shot of Nejat waiting for his father to come back from fishing, is a testament to endurance and patience; that reconciliation isn't as easy as one-minute embraces and convoluted conversations; that the wounds and scars of the past can only be healed, not by momentary changes of heart, but by a mixture of life-altering events (Lotte's death and her mother's arrival in Turkey) and the passage of time. We do not see the father and the son meet again or even get knowledge of redemption and forgiveness, but we do know that the wounds have closed and everything is as calm and predictable as the waves meeting the sand.

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