Review by Robert Bell (A-)
As a slightly morbid investigation of East-West culture clashes and the reconnection and adaptation of human relationships that surround loss and disappointment, The Edge of Heaven succeeds. It is structurally similar to the template made successful by Mexico's Alejandro González Iñárritu, but drawn in on a much smaller scale, keeping the story bound by Turkey and Germany. There is a stark realism to the relationships, which are never embellished or contrived for incongruous emotional impact. They exist believably, which is impressive considering the subtle balance created through a story of conveniently intersecting lives.
Edge of Heaven is broken into three parts; divided initially by two deaths and finally by the lessons learned and rekindling of broken relationships. Non-diegetic inserts showing "The Death of Yeter" and "The Death of Lotte" give the audience some not-so-subtle foreshadowing to the impending dooms of our likable and misguided protags. Despite the impending knowledge of the deaths, their inexplicit handlings are still somewhat surprising and upsetting.
The initial story follows pensioner Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) as he visits whore valley for some copulatory satisfaction. Finding comfort in the steely, middle-aged prostitute Yeter (Nursel Kose), Ali decides to offer her a full-time job as his personal live-in hooker. Initially hesitant to accept his offer, Yeter becomes intrigued when she learns that Ali's son Nejat (Baki Devrak) is a professor in Germany. Upon moving in with Ali, it comes clear that she is far more interested in his much more grounded and aesthetically pleasing son. Feeling Yeter's distance, Ali becomes angry and abusive.
The death of Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska) starts out with Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay), a young and armed political radical in Turkey being chased by the authorities. Escaping illegally to Germany, Ayten approaches Lotte for money to eat. Taking refuge on the young foreigner, Lotte invites her to stay at her house, much to the chagrin of her politically correct mother Susanne (Hanna Schygulla). Eventually, Ayten is deported back to Turkey and imprisoned. Desperate to help Ayten, Lotte travels to Turkey and rents a flat from Nejat as she tries to help her friend gain freedom.
The final story follows Susanne as she travels to Turkey to honor Lotte's wishes of helping Ayten fight her political imprisonment. While there, Susanne stays in her daughter's flat and strikes a bond with Nejat as they learn from each other and their respective tragedies.
From a subtextual perspective, Heaven is occasionally contradictory, but always interesting. The initial stories of female persecution by singular and sociologically superior men are met with an interesting denouement involving the rekindling of a damaged father-son relationship. The intended message is unclear when female suffering appears to be the fulcrum of catharsis for men, who mostly remain unaffected. There are also issues surrounding Turkish nationality and political discontent mirrored with more colonial German belief systems. German ideologies are painted with an equal, yet very different oppressions than Turkey, mainly when Ayten's forced pleas for asylum are denied and met with a relatively ignorant perspective. The insight appears to be that of differing perspectives unwilling and incapable of fully understanding each other without tragedy.
Additionally, Ayten's own trajectory is occasionally muddled as she seems unwilling to sacrifice her own political beliefs for the love and humanity she is so desperately fighting for. She ultimately winds up using Lotte, someone who genuinely cares for her, to further her self and her political agenda. Through tragedy, Ayten changes, but in doing so defies some of her own ideological values that were initially paramount.
While there is a deliberate nature to Akin's impressive script, there is also a feeling of detachment. On paper, the characters are left to perform their archetypes to further a political agenda, which occasionally comes across with minor artificiality. Thankfully, the performances from the diverse and talented cast mask this flaw. A great deal of depth and humanity is brought to each character as Akin's direction allows scenes to linger and the actors to explore each moment with insight. This also helps one overlook the surprisingly pleasant Turkish prison experience and recurring casket visuals.
The Edge of Heaven is one of the more thought provoking films to come about in some time and should be received well by art house auds and academics alike. There is a genuine feel to the relationships and political motivations exhibited on screen despite a greater knowledge of cinematic manipulation.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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