Edge of Heaven, The (Germany/Turkey/Italy, 2007)
The Edge of Heaven, a film that switches back and forth between Germany and Turkey, is a drama about redemption that structurally echoes films like Babel and is a thematic cousin to some of Kieslowski's more penetrating motion pictures. Evenly divided into three sections, The Edge of Heaven explores topics as varied as the tensions that accompany multiculturalism and globalization to the simpler human drama of how individuals cope with losses for which they bear a portion of the responsibility. Writer/director Fatih Akin takes these concepts and, by focusing on believable characters and not making the storyline too convoluted, weaves a compelling tale. Although the strands do not knit together at the end as many viewers will anticipate, this allows for a less artificial feel than if the final scenes had resulted in a tidy package.
The film opens in Germany, where an aging, Turkish-born widower, Ali (Runcel Kurtiz), visits a prostitute, Yeter (Nusel Köse). After a few sessions, he becomes smitten with her and makes an offer: if she will come live with him, he will pay her a salary equal to what she makes as a hooker. After she is harassed by Muslim hoodlums to "repent," she agrees to Ali's deal. He is thrilled to have a willing housekeeper and bedmate, but his son, Nejat (Baki Davrak), isn't sure about Yeter. However, after Ali has passed out drunk and Yeter and Nejat have a heart-to-heart, Nejat warms to her. But tragedy looms ahead, as is foreshadowed by the title chapter that appears on screen before this segment.
Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Yeter's daughter, Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçy), is being hunted by the police for her involvement in anti-government activities. For those like her, who oppose government crackdowns on personal freedoms and are against Turkey joining the E.U., she is a "freedom fighter." For those opposing her point-of-view, she is a "terrorist." She flees to Germany in search of her mother. There, she befriends a student, Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), and the two become lovers against the wishes of Lotte's mother, Susanne (Hanna Schygulla). When Ayten is caught by police during a routine traffic stop and deported to Turkey, Lotte follows.
Perhaps unnecessarily, the movie not only criss-crosses between the two countries, but it also slides back and forth in time, with occasional flash-forwards (either that, or most of the movie is told in flashback). It takes a while before the film's chronology loses its ambiguity. In addition, director Akin has broken the story into three titled chapters, the first two of which have revealing names. This is an example of a movie providing its own spoilers; however, it lends a sense of inevitable doom to the proceedings. When you know a character is going to die, you watch for clues about how the death will happen.
One of the themes addressed by the film relates to the growing tension across Europe that accompanies the rise of multiculturalism. Never a homogenous country, Germany, like all the other members of the E.U., has seen a radical change in its population demographics as a result of immigration. Certainly, religion is at the core of some of the unease inherent in this situation; Muslims have not been regarded the same since 9/11 in the West, and there are those who do not differentiate between fundamentalists and the followers of a more peaceful Islam.
At the heart of The Edge of Heaven are the timeless concepts of redemption and repentance - ideas that have formed the backbone of numerous powerful motion pictures. Nearly every character in The Edge of Heaven has something to atone for. Some succeed in achieving redemption; others do not (at least during the running course of the movie). When the end credits have rolled with several strands of the plot left unfulfilled, one must ponder whether success at repentance is more important than the attempt or whether, as the saying goes, "it's the thought that counts."
The Edge of Heaven is marked by a number of remarkable performances. Nurgül Yesilçy exhibits a volcanic ferocity as Ayten. We may not agree with her politics, but it's impossible to deny this character's passion and belief in her cause. Events shake her to the very core, and Yesilçy provides us with a credible transformation. Baki Davrak, whose character of Nejat is in many ways the hinge around which the plot turns, provides an understated portrayal that suits this undemonstrative university professor. Hannah Schygulla, one of Europe's sexiest stars in the '70s, may no longer have her youth, but she still has her talent.
Akin's movie is the kind of film that appeared frequently in U.S. art houses during the early 1990s, but which has become increasingly difficult to find in recent years as distributors have pulled back from foreign and true indie offerings. Whether intentional or not, there's a shadow of Kieslowski (especially of his Three Colors trilogy) in the way The Edge of Heaven interweaves multiple points-of-view and coincidence. Perhaps most refreshing of all - even more welcome than a story that can boast substance over style - is the film's sense of unpredictability. Finally, a movie in which the viewer can't guess what's coming next (even though some of the details are revealed by the chapter titles). That sense of revelation alone makes The Edge of Heaven's two hours pass with uncommon quickness.
Edge of Heaven, The (Germany/Turkey/Italy, 2007)
Cast: Nurgül Yesilçy, Baki Davrak, Runcel Kurtiz, Hanna Schygulla, Patrycia Ziolkowska, Nusel Köse
Screenplay: Fatih Akin
Cinematography: Rainer Klausmann
U.S. Distributor: Strand Releasing