Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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Cannes 2007: The Edge of Heaven

Helmer Fatih Akin’s “The Edge of Heaven” bridges two extremely different cultures, two diametrically varied races, and even countries. Winning the Best Screenplay Award at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, the movie travels between Germany, European in every sense, and Turkey, whose Islamic tradition and culture can be bit of a hurdle in Istanbul’s fight to be part of the European Union. Akin’s work amply underlines this divide between what is essentially European and what is perceived – or, better still, fancied – by some as Continental.

Like his 2004 Berlin Golden Bear winner, “Head-On”, “The Edge of Heaven” explores factors that segregate, but unlike the earlier film, the latter treads beyond to show us how chasms can be actually bridged.

“The Edge of Heaven” begins in Germany with a Turkish immigrant widower, Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), who falls for the charm of a Turkish-Muslim prostitute, Yeter (Nursel Kose). They begin to live together, much to the chagrin of Ali’s brilliantly academic son, Nejat (Baki Davrak). A violent confrontation between Ali and Yeter one evening leaves her dead and him behind bars.

In the Meantime, Yeter’s daughter, Ayten (Nurgel Yesilgay), gets involved with a Turkish underground movement and flees to Germany, where she seeks political asylum and meets a local girl, Lotte (Patrycia). They become lovers to the disapproval of Lotte’s mother, Susanne (Hanna Schygulla).

Ayten does not get an asylum, is sent back to Istanbul, and Lotte follows her with disastrous consequences that eventually bring about a touching rapprochement between the elderly Susanne and the younger, rebellious Ayten. Akin weaves into the screenplay a part for Nejat, who we presume will in the end find Ayten, a woman he has been searching for.

“The Edge of Heaven” works in many layers. We notice a disguised effort to cement the gulf between EU and Turkey by underplaying the differences between the two nations. And even while Rainer Klausmann’s camera captures the contrast between Hamburg and Istanbul – the two cities the story moves back and forth from – Akin cleverly manages to link the two peoples, through their emotional turbulences.

Susanne sees – in the end – something of her own daughter (Lotte) in Ayten, and begins to understand why the two girls bonded so well. Detailing traits such as acceptance and forgiveness, Akin spins his plot around tragedies to strengthen his characters’ resilience for views that may seem far removed than their own. This is brought out with flourish in one of the last scenes where Susanne and Ayten come together, both having gone extreme distress and pain.

“The Edge of Heaven” is often a string of sparse frames, shot with a refreshing economy of words. The picture’s near flawless performances add to its overall appeal. Precise and smooth, “The Edge of Heaven” has but one jarring note: the political face-off between Susanne and Ayten at the beginning that sounds too much like a sermon. A cliché that could have best been avoided.

(Webposted July 12 2007)