Cast: Nurgül Yesilçay, Baki Davrak, Patrycia Ziolkowska, Tuncel Kurtiz, Hanna Schygulla, Nursel Köse
Director: Fatih Akin
Runtime: 122 min.
Country: Turkey, Germany
Language: Turkish, German, English
There’s something about Auf der Anderen Seite (The Edge of the Heaven) that reminds me of Barry Lyndon. The way the characters move about living their fates, each predestined and intertwined, but none of them are aware of it. As in confined within a box, designed by their creator, and that is something only we as the audience realize. There’re two deaths in the film, and two different sets of people come to grips with the tragedy, and both times you are given a heads up who it is going to be well in advance. That tell us me this is a superior film. I haven’t seen the trailer but I wouldn’t be surprised if the deaths are let known there as well.
Most stories are concerned with the fate, and how events pan out using these contrivances as fulcrum. The Edge of Heaven shares these two contrivances at the outset, lets us know beforehand what the two tragedies are that shape it, and instead unfolds for its characters. They are good people, nice people, who occasionally do bad things that hurt their loved ones. They repent, they survive and they move on. The film realizes an important truth, that one of the greatest joys at the movies, probably the greatest joy, is in knowing people. The Edge of Heaven, if not anything else, has a fascinating bunch some of whom you would love to meet and spend time with.
There’s no reason I shouldn’t be telling you about these two contrivances, at least the film doesn’t. But something inside stops me, and I feel I better pay heed and refrain. Let me instead tell you about these fine people, who I suspect aren’t products of real life as much as they’re of the pen. These folks, I believe, have their origin in the writer’s (Fatih Akin) need to fill certain definitions so that they could move the plot forward. And from there and within the parameters of those definitions, they’re so well written, so well acted they assume a life of their own.
There’s Nejat Aksu (Baki Davrak), maybe in his early thirties and as good a person there can be. A Turkish born German professor of German and living with his widower of a father who has never married since his wife died when Nejat was six. Oh yes, I forget. He did have a wife once but things just got too complicated. He is a curious old man, Ali Aksu (Tuncel Kurtiz), and late in his life he is feeling the loneliness bite him. He visits Yeter (Nursel Köse), a Turkish born prostitute, and falls in love with her so much so that he offers to pay all her expenses for a month if she agrees to stay with him at his place and sleep only with him. She does. Nejat is a good man, mind you, and he warms up to her. She warms up to him too, for a good man always spreads goodness. She shares with him her longing for her daughter, Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay), who is studying back in Turkey and must be somewhere his age.
And with Ayten you’ve the second set of people. Ayten is a radical political activist and her ilk is prone to rough skirmishes with the law. There’s a protest one too many and she is escapes illegally into Germany, with no food and no money. She is a tough nut, this young lioness, and there are only one or two notes to her. She is angry, yet we learn she has heart. A young German girl of her age meets her by chance, gets to know her, gives her room to live in her own house and they grow quite close to each other. They fall in love, and just in case you were thinking, this German girl Charlotte (Patrycia) feels like a lonely person. She has great love within her, mind you, and she pays for Ayten’s asylum plea with the financial help of her writer mother Susanne (Hanna Schygulla), who herself was a hippie in her heydays traveling all across the world. She isn’t exactly over the moon with her daughter’s love interest, but then who better than her to understand.
How these set of people, these threads, get entangled is something I wish to leave you with and I hope you’ll watch it.
Something I have realized quite recently is that I’m a great lover of films with multiple characters, and when done with honesty and heart, they leave an indelible impression on me. I wouldn’t be able to pin down reasons and quantify my feeling for such films, but maybe the very notion of multiple protagonists rings me as fascinating. The Edge of Heaven might have characters who dance to the strings of director writer Fatih Akin, but they’re acted with such truth that I believed in them. Neither the filmmaker, nor his film give us reasons why their characters act with such compulsion about them. They just do. For instance consider Charlotte, with her eyes bereft of any shred of conceit or pretense, and so wide with innocence to absorb the world around them. She loves Ayten, and she summons all the will to fight against everybody for her, including her mother and the law of two countries, and she does all that alone. I was watching the film late in the night, and when she is sobbing in a foreign country, it broke my heart. Of all the characters in this film, I probably held myself to her and felt for her the most. But then, I wished I could meet somebody like Nejat, and strike a conversation with him along a drive through the countryside or crossing a long road against the coast. Films of this kind, done this well, make you feel that way.
Fatih Akin pulls his characters through tough and tumultuous times, sad times, unfortunately tragic times, and he does it all with a gentle hand. They, in a fit of insanity commit terrible things, yet he pulls them with a string of compassion. The shots are stationery, and if they move, they do so with grace. It reminded me of Gustavo Santaolalla and his music, touching and deep. He doesn’t preach, and although he plays God, he doesn’t judge them. He just sees them as a loving parent, and leaves them be as they are. Often their passion fills the air around them, and often there is a quiet accumulation of feelings that finds it desperate to break free.
I’m not sure Akin has made this film keeping his country’s political predicament in mind. Yes, the EU is mentioned more than once, and yes Turkish political climate is alluded to. But it felt to me more as a comment on the characters and their naïve beliefs, rather than any telling statement. The west has always had the belief that Turkey would be best served joining the EU, but I’m not sure that is entirely true. Ayten, in her turn, could be labeled a terrorist, but these are giving in to definitions the film isn’t bothered about in the least. It is about relations, about fathers, about sons, about daughters, about love, about forgiveness, about homecoming, and although I don’t know much about heaven, its edge our world, with its imperfections and all is as good as heaven might ever be. The final shot, as the credits rolled, is of Nejat sitting in front of the sea staring into the horizon. I think the feeling that arrested him was just that.