Fatih Akın’s The Edge of Heaven is like an unruly kid who draws penises all over your walls in permanent marker—you can’t get mad because the kid is so precocious and inventive, you just have to let it go. Akin is a punk filmmaker of sorts: his characters inevitably have short, stupid bursts of anger where they throw books on the ground or scream at each other for no good reason. That was funny in 2004’s Head-On—the film that plucked Akin from the lower-tier festival circuit and plopped him into the arthouse forefront—where outlandish suicide attempts were the norm and title cards furiously announced “PUNK! IS! NOT! DEAD!”. Only now I know it wasn’t supposed to be funny: three years later, his characters are still prone to throwing spontaneous fatal punches at women or clearing their desks by sweeping them in a single angry gesture. But maturity, of sorts, has come for Akin, and the results are worth cheering.
Two problems, one unforgivable—what Mike D’Angelo dubbed “Stupid Writer Tricks,” the post-Magnolia wave of tangled connections, people looking for each other traveling on trains going in opposite directions without even realizing it, etc. This inexplicable cavalcade of butterfly effect, everyone-is-connected filmmaking should have long worn out its welcome. But that problem is part-and-parcel of another, more understandable agenda: Akin wants nothing less than to allegorically sum up the uneasy tete-a-tete of Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union. Every Turkish and German character must represent their respective country: no political neutral zone exists in any given conflict, and keeping your ears tensed for whenever characters switch from German to Turkish is crucial. So if Akin wants to represent this geopolitical transitional moment through missed connections (the kind that keep Turkey unprepared to join the EU, still), that makes sense, though I still wish he wouldn’t do it. By coincidence, I saw Ulrich Seidl’s Import/Export the same day, a magisterial film equally hellbent on pinning down the relation between Old and New Europe in diptych form. But Seidl’s characters are never looking for or even aware of each other—once, the male character happens to be at a train station at the same time as the female one arrives, but that’s it. I wish Akin were at least that smart, sketching out the connections rather than double-underlining them in black marker.
But if Seidl’s film is chilly, aloof and almost no fun to watch, Edge is a blast in the moment, then recedes steadily into memory. Depending on where you stand, Akin’s style is either overly slick—a series of generically impressive shots with no editorial rhythm connecting segments into a larger film—or just bravura enough to keep you watching. More importantly (at least for me), he’s got a sense of strong location shooting—it’s film as tourism, taking in dusty Turkish gas stations, surprisingly clean and Midnight Express-brutality free prisons, and anything else the not-so-dedicated traveler would never see. The German segments are gravy for those, like me, who can no longer afford even token vacations. Maybe not the noblest reason for watching, but I found the scenery infinitely more satisfying than the rote globe-trotting of e.g. the Bond movies.
The film’s first episode—“Yeter’s Death”—has the titular hooker (Nursel Kose) plying her trade in German ’til elderly Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) recognizes her Turkish roots and offers her the equal of her current salary to be his live-in fuck buddy. So far, so simple: that’s the prologue of sorts. In “Lotte’s Death,” Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska)—a super-hot, super-spoiled German student in English/Spanish—falls for Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay), an equally stupid Turkish “political refugee”—i.e., the kind of unarmed, vaguely conspiring “revolutionary” who speaks in platitudes. Theoretically seeking asylum in Germany, Ayten is forced to communicate in the world’s most endearingly half-assed English for the entirety of her romance: “We are fighting for hundreds of people for education” is a typical blast. Lotte and Ayten’s affair is equal parts youthful ardor and, somewhere over the camera, Akin’s snickering glee that he’s getting two hot girls to make out on camera. It’s the best part of the film: Lotte and Ayten are incredibly earnest mirrors of each other, giving each other what they’re missing. Lotte gets to feel like she’s part of something real, earnest and deathly important, anything other than her liberal arts studies; Ayten gets to feel like she actually is important, not just another disreputable minor insurgent (as she is in Turkey, surrounded by her “comrades”), but recognized as important by nothing less than Old Europe. Ayten would be the harmless dreadlock-sporting, Ani DiFranco-loving campus radical if geography and circumstance didn’t make her, in Akin’s formulation, the honest-to-god victim of a fascistic government. You get the feeling that, for all their myopic fervor, Akin sides with Ayten and Lotte; this is sweet, and maybe a good thing, if intellectually dubious.
Like Head-On, Edge’s final third suffers from a sudden loss of energy, because Akin is the kind of dude who takes concepts like “redemption” and “remorse” as seriously as only an alpha male can, which means his previously energetic characters suddenly spend a lot of time staring into space aimlessly. Alternately galvanizing and turgid, Edge works as giddy melodrama and State Of The EU tract—we’re going to be seeing a lot of these in the years to come. Akin’s film could benefit from one of The Economist’s dispassionate appraisals and explications, but it has enough dramatic steam of its own to travel well.
Vadim Rizov is a New York-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Reeler, Nerve, and, oddly enough, Salt Lake City Weekly.