Sunday, November 16, 2008
The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite) A Film by Fatih Akin (2007)
German-Turkish director Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven is one of the great films of 2007. He provides a welcome alternative to the trend of intertwining narratives (an approach most notably exercised by Spanish-American Alejandro González Iñárritu) that is breezing through Hollywood currently. It seems that the multicultural directors have the best touch on the method, which is perhaps why Paul Haggis' Crash and Pete Travis' Vantage Point appeared as contrived to the most discerning audiences. Stories riding on so much surprising circumstance and coincidence are already closer to being forced out from the screenwriter's pen than a singular narrative. I am pleased to report that Akin's recent arthouse crisscrosser is an inquisitively believable journey through two dissonant lands: Germany and Turkey.
Six prosaic lives are tested by tragic occurrences that cause them to meet. Told in three parts entitled "Yeter's Death", "Lotte's Death", and "The Edge of Heaven", the film manages to continually surprise every time the suggestive titles come to fruition. The tendency for the film to always be on the move, alternating countries, roadways, and characters, explains this emotionally renewing phenomenon. Akin opens the film with a smooth camera movement through a gas station, introducing Nejat Aksu (Baki Davrak), but keeping his character unexplained. In the blink of an eye, the story of his father sets in motion; we see him, Ali Aksu (Tuncel Kurtiz), trudging down a sexually energized street, the smug look on his face clearly signaling that fact that he is on the market for a prostitute. When he picks one seemingly at random, he returns multiple times in the subsequent days and forges an attraction that is absent of any emotional sincerity. Wanting to keep her to himself, he asks her to come live with him. Acting as a polar opposite, Nejat, who is visiting home, is a warmhearted young scholar who finds a deeper humanism in the now conventionalized Yeter. The father is unremittingly disrespectful to Yeter, who has informed Nejat of her longing for her lost daughter.
Following a beautifully restrained tragic sequence, of which the detached camerawork is honorably sophisticated, the lost daughter's story is told. She is a political rebel in opposition to the globalization of Turkey, and when she gets hold of a gun that is dropped during a riot in a crowded street, she hides it and flees to Germany unscathed. In Germany she meets a young student who invites her to stay at her house with her mother (Hanna Schygulla), and the two begin a curious affair. These two initial sections of the film are insightful and compelling and establish a powerful emotional base that becomes shattered when Akin begins to unravel the drama.
Although at times the story deals with heavy subject matter, the extremely admirable direction never settles for heightened melodrama. Iñárritu's films do this to a gut-wrenching extent, but I believe that Akin's style is all the more respectable for showcasing a sympathetic interest in the power of people. He shifts stories with amazing subtlety, and when you realize that one narrative is beginning to overlap into another, it's tough not to wonder if a regrettable quick lapse into sleep resulted in such causal disorientation. However, it's true that Akin strikes each note (multiculturalism, the effects of globalization, friendship and love, and parent/child relationships) with eloquent grace. The compositions in The Edge of Heaven are also astounding. Akin has a keen sense of what to put on the screen when and and what not to show; his camerawork is awfully pared-down for such an involving drama. In the finale of the film, Nejat has perhaps reached the edge of heaven, gazing out at the other side of the sea that also harbors its fair share of basic human conundrums.