A German film director of Turkish origin, Fatih Akin makes films about what it means to be caught between two very different cultures and feel like you belong to neither. His previous film Head-On certainly made quite a big impression internationally, but its story of two emotionally unbalanced, self-destructive characters seemed more a sensationalist high-powered drama about two individuals rather than a typical experience of what it means to be young, Turkish and living in Germany. As the original title of Akin’s latest film suggests - Auf der anderen Seite literally meaning “On the other side” - The Edge of Heaven strives for a more balanced viewpoint, attempting to depict an experience where German and Turkish people find a common ground and come to an understanding of each other’s relative positions. In order to achieve that however, the director is forced into a parallel, mirroring structure through three overlapping, interweaved parent/child relationships that is contrived in the extreme and far from convincing on either a dramatic or emotional level.
Yeter (Nursel Köse) is a Turkish woman working as a prostitute in Bremen, Germany. One of her clients, Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), a widower, also of Turkish origin, suggests that she moves in with him, promising to pay her for her exclusive services. Since Yeter has been threatened by other Turkish religious fundamentalists for her disrespectful occupation, she accepts. She gets more than she bargained for however when she finds herself subject to the demands of a hard-drinking man with traditional views on women being subservient to the demands of her husband. Evidently the point is made, rather blatantly, that the role of a Turkish woman in a marriage is scarcely different from than that of a prostitute, if not showing that she has even less freedom and respect.
Yeter fears for the safety of her daughter Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay), a young woman who is mixed up with a militant protest group in Istanbul, and is wanted by the Turkish police. Ashamed of how his father has treated Yeter, Ali’s son Nejat (Baki Davrak), a teacher of German at the university in Bremen, travels to Istanbul in an attempt to trace her whereabouts. Unknown to Nejat, Ayten has travelled illegally into Germany where she has befriended a young German girl called Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), much to the displeasure of her mother (Hanna Schygulla). In this way, Akin weaves a complex web not only between Turkish and German attitudes, as well as the more complicated position of those who are neither wholly Turkish or German, but he also attempts to depict the generational differences that exist between parents and their children who have different values and are growing up in a different, more multicultural Europe that is supposedly breaking down borders. It’s an interesting topic and a tricky one for any director to navigate, but it’s one that is apparently beyond the capabilities of Fatih Akin.
Using characters to represent types isn’t necessarily a problem, but the characterisation here is so flat and the actions that each of the characters make is often so utterly lacking in sense that it becomes difficult to truly sympathise with any of them. Part of the problem for this lack of conviction in the characterisation is that the director feels compelled to emphasise situations through an overly schematic series of parallel events, using identical camera angles and mirrored situations that force the characters into preconceived patterns of behaviour rather than letting them develop a life of their own. At the pivotal centre point the film, Nejat the German teacher of Turkish origin travels to Turkey to take the place of a German-language bookshop in Turkey for an Istanbul-living German (Lars Rudolph) who wants to return home to Germany. The border crossings by German and Turkish nationals are continual and symbolic throughout the film, allowing the characters to experience life “on the other side”, the original German title taking on a further level of significance when there is an exchange of coffins at the airport.
Sadly, even that image, emphasised by proximity and identical camera angles, is far from the only manipulated and manipulative element of the film. The director’s previous feature Head-On was also far from subtle in its playing out of events between Turkey and Germany, but at least its larger-than-life characters were capable of carrying the events that occur in their lives with a large degree of underlying conviction. Not once does a single scene, action or character transformation ring true in The Edge of Heaven and if you can’t trust the director to create believable characters or situations, you inevitably have to question whether he has any understanding of the complexities of German/Turkish relationships, or at least any ability to say something meaningful about them.
Dates and locations of The Edge of Heaven theatrical showings can be found at the Artificial Eye website.