Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Edge of Heaven

Film numero three is a recommendation from my mother, who wanted to share this film that she found remarkable for its apparent lack of genre. 

The Edge of Heaven is a window into the interrupted lives of a group of Turks in Germany, and Germans who end up in Turkey, whose lives collide together under a unique set of tragic circumstances. 

With fantastic actors portraying incredibly confused, angry, stubborn, fallible, changing, and overarchingly real people, it is a thoughtful study of a diverse society. It is beautifully paced and the modern soundtrack, mostly performed on traditional Turkish instruments, adds to the ambient earthiness of the film. The subject matter and style leave it at risk of being ponderous and directionless but structure is skillfully maintained through various devices, allowing the film to drift through the events in a very human and realistic way without artificial pacing.

The main structural device is the division of the film into chapters - Yeter's Death; Lotte's Death; The Edge of Heaven. These titles give some clue as to what to expect, and nominally make divisions between the main 'events' of the film and the 'conclusion' as characters begin to reconcile with themselves and with each other, finding comfort in those around them. 

The film is also held together with recurring imagery. The symmetry of the shipping of Yeter and Lotte's bodies between Turkey and Germany are two focal points, tying the first two chapters together, while the repeated scene in which Nejat visits a gas station on the way to reconcile with his father, ties the beginning to the end, a classic device to induce reflection on the changes that have occurred through the film. 

The international title is not a literal translation of the original. The German title is Auf der anderen Seite meaning On the Other Side, while the Turkish is Yaşamın Kıyısında, which translates (according to a couple of online dictionaries, so this could be very wrong...) as the Coast (or Edge) of Life. What are these edges, these coasts, these sides? Life and death? Turkey and Germany? The other side of a viewpoint? Perhaps it is life on the edge of death - life thrown into perspective by realisations of mortality in the face of death and loss. Perhaps life is 'the Edge of Heaven' - so nearly perfect if we are only to have the heart to appreciate it. The difficulty in finding a particular purpose or meaning in the title is a reflection on the film itself. It is an essay on humanity without having a specific point to make.

On the face of it, it is about  immigration and identity, the struggles of a large minority community persisting in a land of foreign language, religion and traditions - running themes in the works of Turkish German writer director Fatih Akın. 

Fundamentally, though, the Edge of Heaven is a about life, about people, the meaning of family, death, life in the face of death. It has all the comedy, tragedy, frustrations and anguish that come with being alive. While set against the backdrop of a particular community, it has themes that apply universally.

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