The Edge of Heaven (Strand Releasing, NR)

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film_edge-of-heaven_sm.jpgIt's a feat to draw an audience's involvement into one character, but Fatih Akin does it with six, all of whom are as elaborately sketched as they are beautifully acted.

 

 

 

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The Edge of Heaven is just stunning. Unlike any film I've maybe ever seen, writer/director Fatih Akin (Head-On, Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul) crafts a film as delicate, intricate and marvelous as a cherished novel. It should come as no surprise then that the film won the Best Screenplay prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival. Akin, a German of Turkish heritage, again addresses the shaky relationship between Germans and Turks, unfolding in three stories surrounding the deaths of two women as indicated in the section's title cards.

The first story is of an aging Turkish man Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) who invites a prostitute of similar heritage Yeter (Nursel Köse) to live with him, raising skepticism in his university professor son Nejat (Baki Davrak). The second concerns a political outlaw Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay) who flees to Germany and shacks up with pretty, blonde college student Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), along with her mother (Hanna Schygulla, one of Fassbinder's great actresses). Of course, as this is a film, Ayten is Yeter's estranged daughter and, through a series of post-Altman, pseudo-Crash (shiver) chance encounters, the characters enter and leave one another's lives.

The only blemish on The Edge of Heaven's otherwise flawless skin is Akin's reluctance to allow the characters to shift both spatial and intellectual planes without the whoops-a-daisy whimsicality of missed connections. On small occasions, he allows his camera to linger upon a set of characters in a car whilst another one, who is looking for one of the passengers in the car, drives alongside in a bus. Thankfully, Akin gives us so, so much more to wipe away any comparison to that unrewarding Oscar winner about racism and Sandra Bullock falling down a flight of stairs.

What Akin understands—which most filmmakers who choose to tackle overlapping stories in one film don't—is the balance of human relationships and the capacity to tell his audience exactly what they need to know without oversimplification or slighting. He makes his audience aware of the fates of the two dead girls before you even meet them, and it's to his credit that both of their deaths are as heartbreaking and disquieting as if he hadn't clued you in. It's a feat to draw an audience's involvement into one character, but he does it with six, all of whom are as elaborately sketched as they are beautifully acted. Perhaps due to my longstanding love affair with Fassbinder I was particularly drawn to Schygulla as the caring but misunderstanding mother. It's been almost 30 years since The Marriage of Maria Braun, and it took me about half of the film to recognize her. Regardless, she's as astonishing now as she was then.

The Edge of Heaven is Akin's most astonishing film to date, pummeling over his lauded Head-On, which this critic wasn't very enthusiastic about. It's also the sort of film where characters come to intellectual conclusions about themselves and the people around them, void of the forced whims of an ominous film conductor. | Joe Bowman

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