Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The Edge of Heaven

Living in Germany in the early 90’s, I heard countless complaints about the growing Turkish population in that country. Invited to help rebuild Germany after the war, Turks have now been living in Germany for generations, in the midst of a people who have a very set way of doing things. This has resulted in a lot of tension and even violence. People have not treated each other as they should. With Turkey on the verge of joining the European Union, which is uniting a continent that feels completely different than it did twenty years ago, will people learn to live with each other in a new way in the 21st century?

This is the background to Fatih Akin’s new film, The Edge of Heaven, the story of six people (three sets of parents/children) whose intersecting lives are caught between two cultures and two countries (Turkey and Germany). It is a profoundly moving (though by no means sentimental) tale of how these people learn to see things differently by encountering those “on the other side” (the original German title).

We begin with a Turkish father and son living in Germany. The son is a professor of German, the father a man who invites a prostitute to live with him. The prostitute has a daughter in Turkey who is involved with a militant protest group. The daughter flees to Germany to avoid arrest and gets into a relationship with a female German student, whose mother is not impressed. The lives of these six people will take many unexpected turns, full of coincidences and near misses. This makes the film feel rather contrived, but the film is so original in how it handles these points of intersection and the tragedies which ensue, that one can overlook this potential flaw. This is, after all, most definitely not a Hollywood film, defying both Hollywood plot conventions and a Hollywood ending.

Akin, a Turkish-German filmmaker who won a number of awards for one of his previous films (Head-On), does an excellent job of writing and direction here, combining an original human story of love and friendship with political satire. Akin is helped by some gorgeous cinematography. As you know, I am no fan of the recent trend towards handheld camera work and desaturated colors which are supposed to make a film feel more real. Maybe they do, but most of the time (Once is an exception) it’s too high a price to pay and I long for the kind of beautiful old-fashioned cinematography we find in The Edge of Heaven.

But what makes the film great is the acting. The six key actors were perfectly cast and the acting so natural it is easy to feel sympathy for each of them as their lives are thrown into turmoil and they are forced (or given the opportunity?) to see the world a little differently. Watching these six people struggle with the challenges of international politics, the challenges of their family relationships and the challenges presented by each new person who enters their lives is riveting. There are few things in film I enjoy more than the impact of a unique encounter with another human being. It can give us a new perspective on the people we encounter every day and help us all catch a needed glimpse of life on the other side. ****