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Review Stew: <em>The Edge of Heaven</em>

Might the German-Turkish film director Fatih Akin be a major filmmaker? If the reviews for his fifth fictional feature, The Edge of Heaven, are any indication, the Golden Bear-winning talent is very much one to watch.
Edge The visceral thrills of German-Turkish film director Fatih Akin's Golden Bear-winning fourth film, 2004's Head-On (Gegen die Wand), raised Akin's profile considerably amongst film devotees, which made complete sense. The sheer amount of feeling thrown on the screen had writer Emma Forrest gushing, "I don't think I've ever seen love, and the purpose of loving, depicted so truthfully...this film is so fucking punk rock." [1] The New Yorker's Anthony Lane lay down the gauntlet: "All I can say is that you should see it, and that, even if you end up hating it, there will be no denying the fact that you have been through something and that, if you are still foolish and hopeful enough to let movies get to you, the person who went into the theatre will not be quite the same as the person who comes out." [2] Quite the heady review for what, simply, is a love story between two Turks in Germany; and yet, Lane was right, as  Akin's singular talent made Head-On's lovers transcend banalities.


With the success of Head-On, pens were rightfully poised and ready for the release of Akin's new film, The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite), now playing in New York. While less "punk rock," it still comes to American shores bearing strong critical approval, having received an award for Best Screenplay from the 2007 edition of Cannes. Heaven explores one of Akin's chief obsessions: the divide between Turkey and Germany. Honor killings and political insurgents meet marriage and education in these stories; human atrocities clash with what's seen as inalienable human rights. According to Akin, this film is second part in his "love, death, and the devil" trilogy, with the third, a "western that goes to America," due to shoot in 2009.


For Derek Elley at Variety, Heaven's rewards are substantial, including the ever-fresh thrill of seeing "the point at which a good director crosses the career bridge to become a substantial international talent." [3] The crisscrossing stories—"hopping from Germany to Turkey and back again, Akin is out to capture the ways that a globalized world can tear up our hearts, and repair them, too," [4] says Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman—of parents and children begins in Germany. Beginning with a black screen and the title "Yeter's Death," Newsweek's David Ansen writes, "we meet the doomed Yeter, a sturdy, hard-working Turkish prostitute in Bremen, where she encounters the much older Ali, also an immigrant from her homeland. Ali, smitten, offers his home to her, if she'll only work for him—an offer that becomes all the more attractive after she's threatened by fundamentalist thugs who disapprove of her livelihood." [5]


After Yeter's death, the story pivots and begins to follow Nejat, Ali's son, who works as a professor in Germany, as he goes to Turkey to look for Yeter's Ayten. As The New Yorker's Lane (again, and he's clearly a fan) explains, "even as his quest begins, we see Ayten travelling in the opposite direction, to Germany. Hence the accusation of coincidence—of characters wrenched too neatly into place, and symmetries arranged for the director’s pleasure."


Lane continues, "I prefer to think of Akin, however, not as a forger of patterns but as an ironist who understands that bad luck is a crucible, in the heat of which we are tested, burned away, or occasionally transformed. Heaven is about something more exasperating than crossed paths; it is about paths that almost cross but don’t, and the tragedy of the near-miss. It dives into the current that sweeps all of us along: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, anyone leaving home and aching to return." [6]


Lane's rave addresses Heaven's central complaint, that its interlocking stories are too neat, too pat, and too reminiscent of currentedge cinema trends as seen in Crash (2004) and Babel. The Village Voice sniffed, "If the united Europe aspires to compete with America globally, this is good news—they've found their own Paul Haggis!" [7] The Boston Phoenix gave Akin's technique faint approval with "the border between one country and culture and another blurs before snapping back into an uncrossable frontier. Such blurring distinguishes Akin’s narrative structure as well — it’s a better-than-usual version of the current popular multiple-story-line format." [8] However, New York Magazine's David Edelstein argues for the poetic results of coincidences: "The movie might be overly determined, but Akin’s feelings aren’t. He’s trying to work out something he doesn’t entirely understand, dredging up pieces of his psyche and arranging them into ever-more-complicated patterns. In Heaven, he finds a place for rage, for melancholy resignation, and even in the end, for hope. The void isn’t filled, but it isn’t unfillable." [9]


And coincidence does have a purpose in movies; here, it's illustrating the differences between Germany and Turkey, education and oppression, mothers and daughters. Rainer Werner Fassbinder's muse, Hanna Schygulla, shows up as the mother of Ayten's German lover, and as Noel Murray of The Onion A.V. Club notes, "by the end of the story, as Schygulla reminisces about backpacking though India, she begins to realize that young people will always need their own fruitless crusades. And thus another gulf gets smaller." [10] It's a small observation, but ultimately quite true: What makes Heaven fly is its sense of humane compassion and generosity.


For The New York Times' A.O. Scott, Akin's work moves the audience with contradictions and caring: "That compassion does not always come easily or express itself clearly is one of Mr. Akin’s central insights. He is generous with his characters, even at their worst, but he also regards them with a measure of detachment as their good intentions go astray and their bad impulses bear terrible fruit. Similarly, while he is acutely aware of viciousness, injustice and hypocrisy in both Turkey (where his parents were born) and his native Germany, his camera absorbs the authentic beauty in both countries." [11]


Clearly, Heaven has struck a nerve with besotted critics, eliciting reviews that were well written and thoughtful, citing the film's lingering touch. To make a film that moves people to eloquence isn't easy; just further proof that Akin, if he isn't already, is quite possibly on the road to becoming a seminal director.


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