April 27, 2008

REVIEW: The Edge of Heaven (B+)

Background: Unless you're paying attention, you may not know very much about the ongoing tension between Germany and its immigrant population, predominantly comprised of Turks. Appropriately, writer/director Fatih Akin (a German of Turkish origin) has been exploring these issues in his highly acclaimed films for the last decade or so. The only other one I've seen, Im Juli (In July), has stayed with me for years and will probably be profiled as an Underrated MOTM on Getafilm at some point. Akin's latest film, Auf der Andere Seite (The Edge of Heaven), was Germany's official submission for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008, and also won the award for Best Screenplay at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

Synopsis : The story is separated into three acts, but the characters weave in and out of each act, and time is fluid. In Bremen, Germany, we meet widower Ali Aksu (Tuncel Kurtiz) when he visits Yeter (NurselKöse), a Turkish prostitute who is estranged from her 27 year-old daughter. Ali is also Turkish and he has a son, Nejat (Baki Davrak), who is a German professor in Hamburg, and who is reluctantly accepting when Ali moves Yeter in as his live-in girlfriend. Things turn sour when Ali suffers a heart attack and returns from the hospital an angry and violent man, and an incident occurs that leads Nejat to Istanbul in search of Yeter's daughter. Unfortunately they miss each other as her daughter, Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay), is an outspoken activist in Turkey who has fled to Germany to find safety and a new life with Yeter, with whom she has had little contact for many years. As Nejat combs through Istanbul, he finds more than what he is looking for: not Ayten, but his roots. He buys a German bookstore and settles there permanently. Meanwhile in Hamburg, Ayten has found a new friend, Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), who takes her in (much to her mother's disapproval) and helps her in the search for Yeter. Another incident occurs that sends both young women to Istanbul - Ayten as a prisoner and Lotte as her legal advocate. Not all of this is happening in sequence, either, and by the third act, both Lotte's mother and Nejat's father, Ali, are back in Turkey as well (hint, hint - not the first time they've been they're together), and Nejat is left trying to piece everything together.

I Loved:
+ Nurgül Yesilçay
, a striking presence whose character, Atyen, was felt even when she wasn't on screen.
+ The sense that we were traveling as much as the characters, back and forth between Hamburg and Istanbul, and then to the Turkish coastal town of Trabzon.

I Liked:
+ When Akin infused coincidence and fate into the story with a wink and a feather's touch.
+ The supporting cast, all of whom added to the rich drama of the story in their own way. Lotte's mother, played by Hanna Schygulla, was an especially important character.

I Disliked:
- When Akin infused coincidence and fate into the story with a shout and a sledgehammer.

I Hated:
- That the titles of the three acts of the film so blatantly give away the story. Maybe I don't fully understand this occasionally used method, but telling me someone is going to die kind of takes away from the dramatic shock that we're supposed to feel when it actually happens (or so one would think - idiots throughout the theater still deafeningly gasped, "Augh! They killed her!").

Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 4
Significance - 5

Total: 44/50= 88% = B+

Last Word: Back in mid-March I picked out a New York Times piece about immigration in contemporary films, and The Edge of Heaven was one of the examples cited by A.O. Scott, who observed that the issue is now beginning to attract attention from filmmakers on a global level. It was a terrific perspective, and he did well in mentioning The Edge of Heaven, which achieves the rare goal of actually being the movie it tries to be. Fatih Akin certainly has the filmmaking talent to tackle the subject, but more importantly, he has the authoritative perspective and pride of someone who lives in that world every day. I don't know what his reputation (or that of the film) is in Germany, but it's encouraging to me that the country chose this as their Oscar submission. It tells an extremely important story in a very real way. Some of the coincidences existed as a bit of stretch to me, but if Akin's underlying thesis is that we're all related in some way and fate brings us together, I can live with that. There are some outstanding acting performances on display, surely a combination of the cast's talent and Akin's direction. For me, his method of giving the plot away to build tension backfired, but others may see it differently. At the end of the day I think I would rather go back and rewatch Im Juli or see his acclaimed Head-On for the first time, but The Edge of Heaven is nevertheless a solid addition to this young writer/director's list of credits. Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior) may get the most exposure of the current generation of German directors, but it should be a surprise to no one if Akin is soon regarded as the one making the most important films.


  1. This is more of a general comment, but I just wanted to applaud your coverage of interesting, diverse pictures that have a habit of getting overlooked. Nice job.

  2. I kind of agree with chuck, you know. This isn't the first time a review of yours has put something on my Netflix queue.

    Though I haven't seen the film, may I offer a comment on the use of blatantly obvious spoilers within the movie? If a filmmaker gives away the surprise, or lessens it's emotional impact, perhaps that's the point. Maybe it's designed to nullify that impact so we can pay attention to something else?

  3. Thanks a lot, Chuck. I have to say you do pretty well yourself in digging through the catalogs, and on a much more consistent basis than me. I'm fortunate to be in the middle of a festival at the time being, and it's wonderful to get a look at some substantitive material before the summer garbage arrives.

    Thanks, Rick. It's all a matter of taste, and though we seem to share the same kind, I hope I have more hits than misses with the recommendations.

    I appreciate your comment regarding the spoilers here as well. In most of my reviews I don't go out of my way to hide them, but I felt like I had to salvage what I could from this one because it's really all out there. I should point out that part of my reaction in this case is due to the audience, most of whom appeared to be in a movie theater for the first time. My annoyance with their behavior and surprised reactions probably distracted me from what Akin was hinting at. I trust that he knew what he was doing, and as you astutely point out, the method can be utilized to achieve different purposes. He didn't set out to make a thriller here, and it was interesting to observe how much a character would accomplish before their end. I'm still the kind of viewer who likes an unexpected twist here and there, but the lack of them doesn't significantly take away from the underlying message of Heaven.


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