Monday, 7 January 2008

The Edge of Heaven (2007, Germany/Turkey, Fatih Akin)

One of the most promising young European directors, Fatih Akin made his name with 2004's 'Head On', one of the most prominent examples of the renaissance of German cinema this decade. What separated it from the likes of 'Downfall' and 'The Lives of Others' was not just that it looked at Germany from a contemporary angle, but that it considered Germany as a multicultural and multiracial perspective, most notably the relationship between Germany and Turkey. They share close historical, political and economic ties, and 2.5 million people of Turkish descent live in Germany, but 'Head On' was one of the first films to genuinely explore this relationship. Akin examines this relationship once more in 'The Edge of Heaven', which traces two very different storylines across both countries, but are inextricably linked.

Ali (Tunsel Kurtiz) is a lonely widow who offers a prostitute named Yeter (Nursel Kose) a relationship of convenience when she is intimidated by two Turkish men who inform her she is bringing shame upon her people and religion, much to the disapproval of Ali's son Nejat (Baki Davrak). Upon learning of Yeter's daughter, Ayten, in Istanbul, Nejat travels there to look for her, not knowing that she is fleeing to Germany herself after she is involved in a riot with the police. He uses this search to consider his own existence as a university professor and also to reconnect with his Turkish heritage. Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay) meanwhile meets a student in Hamburg, Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska) and they become lovers, much to the digust of her protective mother Susanne (played by Fassbinder veteran Hannah Schygulla). The narrative then criss-crosses between the two storylines, which include a couple of desperate near misses between Ayten and Nejat, who of course do not know exactly who each other is.

'The Edge of Heaven' is a remarkably assured film, certainly one of the best of 2007, with political bite aplenty, considering the frustrating asylum policy of the German government and the heavy handed internal security of Turkey. One might suggest that aspects of the narrative are somewhat contrived in order to keep the central conceit of the film intact, but it ultimately works. The performances are universally terrific, the cultural differences and similarities are well handled by a director who obviously understands both cultures, and the Best Screenplay award the film received at Cannes is testament to Akin's ability to flesh out fully rounded characters and keep the dense narrative together. Akin will surely be considered one of his generation's finest directors. 4/5

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