The Edge of Heaven
English Title: The Edge of Heaven
Original Title: Auf der anderen Seite
Country of Origin: Germany, Turkey, Italy
Studio: Anka Film, Dorje Film, Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR)
Director: Fatih Akin
Screenplay: Fatih Akin
Cinematographer: Rainer Klausmann
Editor: Andrew Bird
Runtime: 116 minutes
Genre: Drama, Guestworkers
Language: German, Turkish, English
Nejat (Davrak) is a Turkish professor of German literature, his father, Ali (Kurtiz), a Turkish widower, both living in Germany. Ali offers Yeter (Köse), who works as a prostitute to finance her daughter's studies, a new life with him. When he is violent against and accidentally kills Yeter, Nejat goes in search of her daughter, Ayten (Yesilçay), who is a political activist in Turkey. He cannot find her but stays in Istanbul, running a German bookshop. Meanwhile, the girl, on the run from the Turkish authorities, escapes to Germany to find her mother. She meets Lotte (Ziolkowska) and her mother Susanne (Schygulla). Lotte and Ayten fall in love. When Ayten is deported back to Turkey and imprisoned, Lotte follows her in order to help. However, tragically, Lotte is killed. Susanne comes to Turkey to grieve and to make contact with Ayten. Instead, she meets Nejat in his bookshop. The complex narrative ends with Nejat making peace with his father, whom he disowned after the killing of Yeter.
Fatih Akin is Germany's best-known Turkish-German film-maker and he consistently manages to unite critics and audiences in Germany, Turkey and beyond – a rare achievement. This is reflected in the awards that his films have garnered, including the Golden Bear at Berlin for Head On (2004), The Edge of Heaven's predecessor and first part of a loose trilogy described by the film-maker as ‘Love, Death, and the Devil.’
One meaning of the original title Auf der anderen Seite (des Lebens) (‘On The Other Side [of Life]’) is captured in the English-language title, The Edge of Heaven. However, the English title misses important connotations implicit in the German title. One of these relates it to Akin's previous film, Head On, literally ‘Against the Wall’ (‘Gegen die Wand’). In this sense The Edge of Heaven can be understood to be the ‘other side’ of the first part of the trilogy – beyond the wall against which the character of Head On crashes. In addition, the central characters of Nejat and Cahit can be seen as two sides of the same person: where Cahit is passionate, impulsive, even self-destructive, Nejat is calm, caring, with a spiritual quality about him.
Whereas the two protagonists of Head On are driven by obsessive passion for each other, The Edge of Heaven is a much more restrained film. The ensemble film structure, in which the fates of six characters are explored, is a departure from the highly concentrated, passion-fuelled tour de force of Head On. Extreme turmoil of the main characters leads to healing, forgiveness and transcendence. Death is the central theme, both in a real sense and in the metaphorical sense of dying and re-birth.
The Edge of Heaven is an intricately woven tapestry of fate and humanity, which not only take in big themes such as love, death and redemption, but also cross-cultural experiences of its variously German, Turkish or Turkish-German protagonists. We are privy to a variety of cross-border exchanges between Germany and Turkey, some of which are the result of individual decisions of some characters (paralleling Akin's own explorations of his cultural heritage); others are demonstrations of state power, as in Ayten's and Najet's father's deportation from Germany to Turkey. The two most striking crossings are those of Yeter and Lotte's coffins as they are transported back to their respective countries of citizenship. This is shown in silent images in which the coffins are loaded onto planes.
A dense narrative texture has been achieved by concentrating mainly on the actual journeys of the characters after important decisions have been taken or after events have led to a crisis. The original idea was to present the narrative strands strictly chronologically; in other words, by cross-cutting between the characters whenever events took place simultaneously. Only in post-production did the film-makers realise that this would not work because it would not allow the audience to understand and identify with the characters and their fates. Therefore, it was decided not to interrupt the individual stories, rather to link them by visual motifs such as planes taking off and landing, and by inserting chapters such as ‘Yeter's death’ and ‘Lotte's death.’ Nejat's central role is underlined by the opening and closing scenes, which are identical: a slow pan takes the eye from a small hut to a petrol station, where a young man is buying fuel and some snacks from the shop in which melancholy Turkish music can be heard. In the opening shots it is not revealed who the young man is, but the scene is set: we are in rural Turkey. At the end of the film we know that he has come to make peace with his father.
Author of this review: Maggie Hoffgen