The Edge of Heaven (2007) dir. Fatih Akin
Starring: Baki Davrak, Nurgul Yesilcay, Tuncel Kurtiz, Patrycia Ziolkowska
Now this is what the Toronto International Film Festival is all about, a film like “The Edge of Heaven.” It was the North American premiere of Fatih Akin’s best screenplay prize-winner from Cannes. It’s a mesmerizing tale about a series of characters from Germany and Turkey who meet and interconnect and discover the healing power of forgiveness and empathy. No logline will do the film justice. It’s a brilliant film and a surefire nominee (if not winner) for a Best Foreign Language Oscar.
The film opens in Turkey where a man walks into a gas station to buy some fuel. The scene lasts only a few minutes before cutting away to a completely unrelated scene in Germany. We learn the man buying gas in Turkey is Nejat Asku (Baki Davrak), a Turk living in Germany working as a university professor. His father is Ali Asku (Tuncel Kurtiz), who lives out his golden years cruising the Bremen brothels for ‘ladies of easy virtue’. His favourite is a fellow Turk, Yeter (Nursel Koese). Ali is so smitten with Yeter he employs her to be his personal whore to live with him and playact as his wife. Yeter accepts. Nejat is surprisingly understanding of Yeter and Ali’s relationship, and in fact they hit it off very well. Nejat learns that Yeter has a daughter, currently living in Turkey whom she yearns to see again. But before she has a chance to do so, Ali, in a violent rage, accidentally kills Yeter. Nejat is so heartbroken he decides to move to Turkey to find Yeter’s long lost daughter.
The film moves and sways following each character’s point of view over the timeline of the film. Like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Babel”, or “Amores Perros”, the characters that we are introduced to and get to know intersect with other – sometimes on purpose, sometimes coincidentally - but all in service of the overlying theme of forgiveness. Writer/Director Fatih Akin channels the themes and characters of Kieslowski’s accomplished oeuvre. The religious themes remind me Kieslowski’s “Decalogue”, and his plot structure and characters remind me of “Red, White and Blue.”
Though the plotting is clever it never overwhelms our identification with the characters. It was a joy to see new lead characters introduced later the film. Just when we were enjoying the engrossing lives of Ali and Nejat we are introduced an equally compelling duo – Ayten (Yeter’s daughter) and Lotte. Their relationship is special and also provides us with one of the most sensual on-screen kisses I’ve ever seen. Towards the end we see that same scene in the gas station again, except, knowing the emotional weight of the characters at this point in their lives, the scene takes on a whole new meaning. It’s a great moment.
The tone of the film also reminds me of last year’s Foreign Language Oscar-winner, “The Lives of Others”, though I do miss the final knot-tying wrap-up that film gave us. I felt “The Edge of Heaven” was missing one more scene before the final credits to give me full closure. An American filmmaker would have given us that last scene, but Akin is European, so what can I expect? I won’t hold it against him. Do I dare call the film a masterpiece? Why not. It’s a ‘masterpiece’. Enjoy.