Friday, December 19, 2008

Review | The Edge of Heaven

The Edge of Heaven

by Matthew Nestel
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posted May 22, 2008 6:20 PM

Heaven makes for an enchanting brew

An ode to youth and homelands, this fictional tale lives up to its searing title. Yeter (Nursel Kose) is a prostitute by day and a mother always. She gambles on a degenerate widowed john who can’t handle his drink. His got-it-together German lit professor son Nejat (Baki Davrak) is well endowed with principal and purpose despite the chaos that comes knocking on his door. Add a couple of doe-eyed females chasing love against all odds, and it all steeps an enchanting brew that holds on the tongue and will draw heaps of folks back to their seats for seconds.

Time is tweaked throughout the film. We begin at the present but work backwards and forwards and then backwards again, only to return to the start. It’s a device that some filmmakers can get too carried away with. Luckily, writer/director Faith Akin lets the storyline and the characters captain this edifying journey involving several concentrically circled plots chaptered by some of their deaths.

It could have been any one of the fleshy call girls standing front and center behind a glass pane along a Hamburg red light district stretch. But Ali (Tuncel Turkiz) saw Yeter, and that was enough. She’s a Turk and so is he. But conversation tickles beyond the same old chitchat, and after a few turns in the sack Ali’s offering her a chance to leave the trick life and live and sleep with him alone. Given the perils of her trade, the Turkish transplant takes the bait.

Meantime in Turkey, her prized rebel daughter Ayten exists under the safe pretense that her mother vends shoes not sex. Seeking asylum from Turkey for her unfavorable political beliefs, she ditches out of town to avoid a fated prison sentence. Soon enough, Ayten sours on the resistance movement and lucks onto a naïve linguistics student at a Hamburg university named Lotte. The two become more than friends and perturb Lotte’s self-righteous mom. Once the law catches up with Ayten, Lotte is forced to abandon the comforts of subsidies. Her mother pulls the plug altogether, tossing her daughter into the throes of survival.

The rest of the film is a sort of collection of chance encounters—some that happen and others that could have happened. Each character, despite the end result, shares the striving for this ultimate oasis. Stumbling on a beggar may change your life for good or worse. A hooker sometimes has more scruples than the lot of goody two shoes. And despite the attraction to denounce parent or child, there is an unbridled sense that a connection is there and must be taken for more than face value.

Narrative is too often discounted for not being real enough to conjure humanity’s discourse. At times, this is fair. Here, the filmmaker took out the tracings of fat and honed in very deliberately on what makes these people tick. The characters and the emotions of the various cities are pinpointed with precision, putting to rest much of the tone-deaf predecessors that attempt the same but riddle with hollowed bullets of thought that just sit like an apple box on the dressed set.

B-roll shots are masterful. Driving along the outskirts of Turkey, there are the screaming skies, the awing sea, the beautiful chaos on city squares and bus roundabouts. Day and night. See an elderly farmer gathering olives and nuts, a saz-playing man on a hill whose notes backdrop the green rolling hills. You get the sense that Akin has stood on the grounds of these places for long lengths and knew the pulse of each because every shot hits.

Words are not always needed, and the writer in Akin let the sounds and visuals make their noises with grace. There is tragedy in this film, and many missed opportunities that could have salvaged a happier end. Ali, the scumbag pop, gets wily with the liquor, and despite a heart attack he manages to land himself in the clink. He even outlives some of the youths in the film. The seed is planted for son and father to reconcile away from Germany, in a remote spot in Turkey. Ayten ventures out to find her mother, and instead finds another unsuspecting guardian.

The film’s focus is a tad obscured by the political injections that make their point and yet there is mistakenly a need to fasten a wider bit to drill it into the heads of the viewer. Much of the “up yours” to bureaucracy is superfluous.

This picture summits difficult terrain. Though uneasy to think about all the frayed ends left here, that’s just what gives it so much oomph. No pretty bows, just a bunch of twisted knots and mangled braids and the sight of it all is just remarkable: Flawed humanity at its best. What’s more, one can comprehend quickly that there is a love for the constantly morphing creature that Europe is, and the filmmaker italicizes this. The clashing stages are distinct, but also share plenty of common bonds. And the characters that dance on them are given license to move and fall as they please. Consider your ticket a passport to shadow this dance.

Distributor: Strand
Cast: Baki Davrak, Nursel Köse, Hanna Schygulla, Tunçel Kuritz, Nurgül Yesilçay and Patrycia Ziokowska
Director/Screenwriter: Faith Akin
Producers: Andreas Thiel, Klaus Maek and Faith Akin
Genre: Drama; German-, Turkish- and English-language, subtitled
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 116 min.
Release date: May 23 ltd.

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