The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite)

edgeThe Edge of Heaven is a story about people. Ordinary, beautiful, alluring, pitiable people with rough edges. Sometimes they’re also horrible, rude, filthy, unlovable. Which is why it’s also a story about repentance and reconciliation, forgiveness and hope. In it two worlds which by appearances can seem so different, so impenetrable to each other, collide and interweave. It is one of those films of interlocking narrative strands, which still fail to tie up at the end. Or rather, they fail to tie up for the characters, for they lack vital information to which we are privy.

The story begins in Bremen, Germany, where an old man named Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) is roaming the streets in search of a prostitute, as I suspect is his habit. He finds one – a middle-aged Turkish lady named Yeter (Nursel Köse) who works from the doorway of a brothel. Two Turkish men overhear their conversation and, assuming that Yeter is Muslim, demand that she renounce her sinful ways or face the consequences. So when on another visit Ali tells Yeter he will pay her to live with him, so long as she sleeps with him and no one else, she accepts his offer readily.

Ali’s son Nejat (Baki Davrak), a German professor who also lives with him, is not best pleased when he realises the occupation of the new lodger, but soon warms to Yeter, especially when she tells him she uses her earnings to fund her daughter’s education back in Turkey. However, their innocent friendship incites Ali’s jealousy, and the stability that Yeter once sought is blown to shreds.

A second strand sees Yeter’s daughter Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay),a member of a militant group, flee to Germany on the run from the Turkish police. Ayten has been out of touch with her mother for many years, and doesn’t know where Yeter is living. Tired, hungry and homeless, she rocks up at one of Nejat’s lectures to get some shut-eye, and later befriends a German girl called Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska) who offers her a place to stay. The two fall passionately in love, and it’s not hard to see why. Ayten is beautiful and charismatic, her obdurate sense of purpose playing well to Lotte’s youthful impulsiveness and ill-conceived ideology.

For reasons that I won’t attempt to go into, Ayten ends up in a Turkish prison, and Lotte follows, with her mother Susanne (the magnificent Hanna Schygulla) hot on her heels. Germany to Turkey, Turkey to Germany, back and forth. Susanne ends up sharing a house with Nejat, who has taken over a German bookshop in Istanbul in order to look for Ayten.

All this time we are waiting for the penny to drop. It never does. Stories and lives converge, but the characters never make the connections that would unite them with their goal. Never mind. Though tragedy is never far away, the film is generally optimistic, putting its hope in humankind’s innate goodness whilst poignantly aware of its fallibility.

The film is beautifully shot, and proceeds at a calm, unagitated pace. Director Fatih Akın provides his own spoilers in the form of chapter headings that announce the deaths of certain characters before they happen. This is no Brechtian verfremdungseffekt. Rather, these early disclosures serve to awaken our sense of dread. Competitive and deliberate, The Edge of Heaven appeals powerfully to both the emotions and the intellect. Akın presents his characters with tenderness and compassion. They make mistakes, sometimes with far-reaching consequences, but, with the love and forgiveness of others, pick themselves up and make a better show of it next time.

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