Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Edge of Heaven: Grade A

The Edge of Heaven (2008)
Nurgül Yesilçay, Tuncel Kurtiz, Hanna Schygulla, Nursel Köse; Writer-director Fatih Akin. (German and Turkish; subtitled).

Turkish-born German director Akin tells of three families whose lives intersect in random ways, per the now formulaic Crash template. Much of the action and dialog takes place in Istanbul and in northeastern (Kurdish) Turkey. An old Turkish man (Kurtiz) in Germany invites a Turkish prostitute (Yesilcay) to quit the business and move in with him. His son is a German professor of Turkish studies, who goes to Turkey to search for the woman’s adult daughter. Meanwhile, the daughter (Kose), a Kurdish activist hunted by police, goes to Bremen to search for her mother. Those two characters cross paths but never meet, though we badly want them to. The daughter befriends a female college student in Bremen and they become lovers. When tragedy befalls them, the student’s mother (Schygulla) travels to Turkey. There her path crosses that of the now-deported old Turk who had befriended the prostitute, but they never meet. The story just ends when the time is up. There is no resolution and it is frustrating, until you realize that in real life, no bell rings to mark “resolution.” We each live in a bubble, trying to make sense of our own lives. As the viewer we have an omniscient, God’s – eye view of how these six lives interact over time, culture, and geography, yet we are forced to settle for the tunnel vision of a mere mortal. It is a contradiction.

The cinematographer prefers high contrast lighting with bright, contrasting colors, especially red and white. It’s a sharp look, very pleasing even in scenes of urban squalor. Acting is marvelous, especially by Köse, who dominates the screen. Apparently she is a big star in Turkey but unknown (until now) outside the country. Schygulla has a smaller role but she still has the magic of her youth. Just asking for a cup of coffee, she rivets your attention. The directing does not draw attention to itself but the writing does. For supposedly ordinary people living ordinary lives, too many low probability events occur and when those tales are not concluded, we wonder what the point was. So in the end, the movie is not quite satisfying, but the beautiful pictures, fine acting, and fascinating languages and cultures more than make up for any deficit in story.

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