Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 18, 2008

The Edge of Heaven

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:25 pm

Ayten and Lotte

Opening at the Film Forum Theater in New York on May 21, Fatih Akin’s “The Edge of Heaven” is unfortunately cut from the same cloth as Paul Haggis’s “Crash” and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Babel”. These sorts of films, with their combination of far-fetched coincidence and liberal pieties, seem to be irresistible to film festival award panels. “The Edge of Heaven” won four German Oscars, including one for Best Film. I imagine that New York film critics will fall all over themselves praising it, but that’s nothing new. “Crash” and “Babel”, another two pretentious Message movies, were also hoisted on their shoulders. My intention, as always, is to dig beneath the hype.

Fatih Akin is a 33 year old Turk who was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. Since his last film “Crossing the Bridge” was an excellent introduction to the Turkish music scene, it can at least be said that “The Edge of Heaven” is distinguished by the inclusion of some terrific background music attributable to the director’s obvious expertise. The acting and cinematography are also first-rate, including some wonderful scenes of Istanbul streets and the starkly beautiful Black Sea region of Northern Turkey. It is too bad that the screenplay is utter nonsense.

The film begins with the elderly Ali Aksu prowling the red-light district of Bremen, where he discovers the forty-something Yeter, a fellow Turk who has spent decades in Germany just like him. Yeter is the Turkish word for “enough”, a name supposedly given to the last child born to overly large families, according to the wiki entry on the film. After several trips to Yeter, Ali invites her to come live with him. He will make sure that she gets the same money she got in the brothel.

All this takes place in the first ten minutes or so of the film and it is the best part by far. Ali is played by Tunçel Kurtiz and Nursel Köse plays Yeter. These are two veteran Turkish actors and they really are quite believable as the characters they play. I was looking forward to their continuing interaction, but was dismayed to see Ali accidentally kill Yeter during a drunken rage. He is hustled off to jail and she simply disappears as a character.

The movie then shifts abruptly to two other stories that rest on utterly implausible coincidences involving their relatives. Ali has a son named Nejat (Baki Davrak), who teaches German literature in Hamburg. When we first see him, he is lecturing on Goethe’s aversion to revolution. As he is speaking, we see a young woman asleep at her desk in the back row. She turns out to be Yeter’s long-lost daughter Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay) who Nejat learned about just before Yeter’s death.

It seems that Yeter became a prostitute just to pay for her daughter’s higher education and Nejat is inspired to devote himself to tracking down Ayten and funding her graduate studies. So consumed is he by the need to find Ayten that he moves to Istanbul and buys a German-language bookstore just to keep him going. If you have trouble believing that a tenured professor would throw away his job in order to devote himself to finding a woman that he never met, welcome to the club.

Apparently, Akin wanted to communicate a Message to the audience through the relationship between these characters. In the press notes, he states that “Literacy, education, plays a profound role” in his movie and that “the key element” in the film is reading. Very high-minded stuff. It is too bad that it is not reflected through dramatic action. You’re better off reading John Dewey.

As if to confirm Goethe’s anti-revolutionary musings, Ayten turns out to be a rather unlikable urban guerrilla who has just fled Istanbul after she and her comrades were caught beating up an undercover cop and firing guns at a May Day demonstration, hot damn. After spending some time in safe houses in Istanbul, she gets a fake passport from her comrades and flees to Hamburg where she ends up in the very classroom of the son of the man who has just killed her long-lost mother. I personally would be embarrassed to write such a ridiculous twist of fate into a screenplay, but then again I have no ambition to be lionized by film festival award panels.

On the very day that Ayten ends up in Nejat’s classroom, she also runs into Lotte Staub (Patrycia Ziolkowska), a graduate student who has just returned from India. Ayten is panhandling on the campus and Lotte turns out to be more than generous. She invites her back to her house and the two women become lovers almost immediately. Lotte’s mother Susanne (played by long-time Fassbinder lead actress Hanna Schygulla) is put off by Ayten, understandably so since the young woman is a walking bundle of off-putting leftist jargon. I have not seen such a cardboard cutout of a radical in a movie since “Forrest Gump”.

One night Ayten and Lotte get stopped by police in a routine check. When Ayten flees from the scene, she is apprehended by the cops and sent back to Istanbul. Lotte leaves Germany to fight for Ayten’s release. And guess where she ends up there? Bingo. You got it, right in Nejat’s bookstore, where the two strike up a friendship. He invites her to rent a room in his apartment while she struggles to free her lover, whose identity is unknown to Nejat.

In a trip to prison Lotte discovers that Ayten is much more interested in having her retrieve a pistol that she hid on a nearby roof fleeing from the cops during the May Day protest than in getting released from prison. As a dedicated revolutionary, the Cause is more important to her than anything else. It is too bad that Akin lacks the knowledge of radical politics that would make Ayten’s behavior plausible. The mission to retrieve the pistol serves more as a device to move the plot forward than anything else.

Throwing caution to the wind, Lotte picks up the gun and as she is walking down a slummy street in Istanbul, she is mugged by a band of street kids who she then pursues. When she catches up with them in a back lot, one of the shoots her dead with the stolen pistol and she dies on the spot. This creates an international incident just like the one that occurred in “Babel”.

Reading comments from Fatih Akin in the press notes, one is struck by his naiveté. Here’s what he has to say about the “Art of Loving”:

Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving” influenced me a lot. I’m fascinated by human relationships. Not just boy meets girl or in a sexual sense, but also between parents and children. All human relationships. I believe that all the wars in the world are the result of not using love in the way that humanity should. I think evil is the product of laziness. It’s easier to hate someone than to love them.

And here am I with my silly notion that the capitalist makes war in order to acquire markets and raw materials. What must I have been thinking? By now, I am getting used to these high-falutin’ and didactic intentions in films such as “Crash” and “Babel”.

Speaking of the racial reconciliation in “Crash”, Paul Haggis opined: “It snows in Los Angeles every 30 years. If it can snow in Los Angeles, anything can happen. And that’s what this movie is about, that we contain these possibilities within us, for good or for ill. I think it’s a very hopeful movie, for that reason.”

Meanwhile, “Babel’s” Alejandro González Iñárritu offers up his own plea for love and peace in this fashion: “Traveling with my family, observing all these different cultures, made me realize how good most of the people in the world actually are. And that’s what gives me hope. It’s just one percent of the population who are enough to ruin the whole party. And yes, that one percent definitely exists — but so do all the others.”

Reading this mush from liberal directors is enough to make me want to club a baby seal to death.

8 Comments »

  1. Fatih Akin certainly is naif and full of cliches. Hanging out in Istanbul cinemas, I was always surprised that he was so highly thought of, apart from his feel for music and photography. Then it came to me. To even admit the existence of lesbians or political radicals is something of a breakthrough in Turkish cinema. He was bold and modern for his Turkish fans who saw him, given his subjects, locations and family history, as a Turkish director.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — May 19, 2008 @ 4:38 pm

  2. I would suggest that recent history has been less about “capitalists waging war to acqire markets and raw materials” than ideologues waging war to impose some cockamamie theory–Nazism, world communism, Islamic jihad–on others who are in most cases quite understandably less than enthusiastic about it.

    Comment by Joseph — May 22, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

  3. […] film that uses interweaving narratives (which one blogger calls ‘implausible coincidences’ and so misses the point of melodrama) to suggest how […]

    Pingback by <The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite, Germany-Turkey-Italy, 2007) « Nick Lacey on films — February 14, 2009 @ 11:02 am

  4. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

    Comment by RaiulBaztepo — March 28, 2009 @ 8:52 pm

  5. Hello !!! ^_^
    I am Piter Kokoniz. oOnly want to tell, that your posts are really interesting
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    Sorry for my bad english:)
    Tnx!
    Your Piter Kokoniz, from Latvia

    Comment by PiterKokoniz — April 7, 2009 @ 10:28 pm

  6. The Son Of Heaven…

    …a good post over at . . ….

    Trackback by The Son Of Heaven — November 26, 2009 @ 5:15 pm

  7. […] reviewed “The Edge of Heaven” when it came out and dismissed it as a derivative attempt to cash in on a trend set by films such as “Babel” and “Crash” […]

    Pingback by The Cut | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — September 17, 2015 @ 7:40 pm

  8. […] nearly every film made by the Turkish director Fatih Akin who grew up in Germany. Except for “The Edge of Heaven”, I had rated them all as “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes but was put off by the mediocre 55% […]

    Pingback by In the Fade | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — December 13, 2017 @ 7:44 pm


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