September 11, 2008

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The Edge of Heaven (NR)
The stories of three families swirl around each other in the engrossing The Edge of Heaven.

The movie jumps back and forth between Germany and Turkey and has the feel of a collection of short stories where the characters from one story will appear in another, but with the point of view shifted, so even though we’re seeing the same people, we’re getting a slow reveal of their inner lives.

The stories more or less start with Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), an elderly Turkish man living in Germany. He’s lonely and visits Yeter (Nursel Kose), a middle-aged Turkish prostitute. After a few visits, he offers to pay her to live with him, an offer she considers after getting harassed by some fundamentalists.

We later meet Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay), Yeter’s daughter and a student in Istanbul who escapes to Germany using a false passport. She’s looking for her mom but instead finds Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), a German girl who takes her in and becomes her girlfriend, something Lotte’s mom Susanne (Hanna Schygulla) does not approve of. Floating between Germany and Istanbul is Nejat (Baki Davak), Ali’s soft-spoken son.

The Edge of Heaven can be disorienting to sink in to. It’s not abundantly clear where you are when the movie starts (though it is made clear later) and the title card of the movie appears something like 90 minutes into the film (something I’d been warned about and I still thought “what an odd ending” before I remembered that there was more movie left). The title card is, I think, meant to be more like the title of the final section (the first two sections were also given titles). The Edge of Heaven slowly takes on a meaning that isn’t just about the California-paradise-like Turkish scenery but also a commentary on the characters’ purgatory-like states and on all the near misses they have with what it is they’re looking for. Like a collection of stories (rather than a novel), The Edge of Heaven feels circular, with some stories going back to the beginning and some going forward in time. Rather than see a story from beginning to end, we are left feeling like we understand a situation. It’s a very literary sensation and it could leave viewers who are looking for a more straightforward story a little cold. But I was in just the right mood for this kind of quiet, occasionally gloomy but fascinating study.

Solid performances bolster this character study. And sure, there are subtitles, but it works well with the blend of languages, helping to establish a kind of dream-like state beyond language and to reinforce the literary feel of the movie. Not quite ready to tuck in to a serious book (or one of those Oscar-contender movies)? The Edge of Heaven is a good transition from beach read blockbuster to serious art. B

Not rated. Written and directed by Fatih Akin, The Edge of Heaven (known as Auf der anderen Seite; in German and Turkish with subtitles) is two hours and two minutes long and distributed by Strand Releasing.