Taking European politics to the 'Edge'

The Boston GlobeSeptember 12, 2008 

  • HHH

    Cast: Baki Davrak, Hanna Schygulla, Nurgul Yesilcay, Patrycia Ziolkowska, Tuncel Kurtiz

    Director: Fatih Akin

    Length: 2 hours, 2 minutes

    Web site: www.auf-der-anderen-seite.de/

    Theaters: Raleigh: Colony. Durham: Carolina.

    Rating: Not rated

In just a couple of movies, 34-year-old Fatih Akin has become the most exciting of Europe's young directors, reinvigorating the melodrama with a furious kind of identity politics. Like "Head-On," his 2004 wrecking-ball romance, Akin's new "The Edge of Heaven" is perched along the fault line of the current Turkish-German situation. And the more determined he is here to examine the chasm between the two sides, the wider and deeper the movie gets.

Germany at the moment is home to about 2.7 million people of Turkish citizenship or heritage, making Turks the nation's largest and most fraught minority. Turkey, meanwhile, is exasperatingly close to European Union membership and yet at odds with itself over how European, Muslim and Middle Eastern it is and wants to be. In "Edge of Heaven," the dilemma of nationality is a backdrop for familial skirmishes carried out between generations.

It may do no good to rehash the story, since some of its magnificence stems from detours down surprising alleys of plot. Akin shuffles the chronology and tells you what's coming in two of his bluntly titled chapters (the death of so-and-so). But he's both architect and construction worker -- head in the sky, feet on the ground.

The literal translation of the movie's German title is "on the other side." That's a title fit for a movie where the characters seem to travel between two countries with amazing ease. So do their caskets. That literal translation also gets at the changes in perspective these men and women undergo. The film plays out as clash between folkways and between generations. And Akin's skill as a storyteller and as a filmmaker resides in the way he makes you aware of the difference in the nature of these conflicts.

"Head-On" was about the violence of romantic collision. The new movie calmly takes up the knotty stress of intersection -- and the rules that dictate it.

This, I think, is the trickier task for a filmmaker: to create a small, interlaced world that's full of air and life and death. Given dramatic weight, the coincidences expand into tragic ironies.

Really, though, "The Edge of Heaven" is a concentrated cosmic cousin of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red, White, and Blue trilogy. In a single two-hour film, Akin strikes the notes of emotional distress, geographical dissonance, generational discord and nearly divine convergence that Kieslowski orchestrated over nearly six hours.

"The Edge of Heaven" is obviously the more modest undertaking, but a tremendous, risky, human vision is in evidence. With impeccable skill, Akin has made a film roiling with cruelty but guided by tough political optimism. No, we can't all get along, but some us of are trying.

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