Saturday, June 14, 2008

Heaven's Border

Last night, I saw "The Edge of Heaven," the extremely well-executed second film in a trilogy by Turkish director Fatih Akin. The film concerns three parent-child pairs, all involving the only children of widowed or otherwise abandoned fathers or mothers. As some reviewers have commented, the work relies, like "Babel," on the intertwining and coincidental (or missed) encounters among members of its different stories. This aspect of the movie ultimately becomes rather cloying, especially when chance actions of each protagonist seem to narrowly thwart each potential moment of recognition. Nevertheless, the technique does not distract excessively from the formal elegance and excellent acting of the film.

Divided into three episodes, "The Edge of Heaven" adopts something of a Brechtian technique of alienation by announcing the deaths of two of the characters through the titles of the first and second sequences. The effect of this strategy is not, however, to disengage the audience members' emotions entirely. Instead, when we meet Yeter, after seeing the announcement "The Death of Yeter," we view the unfolding of her character already in mourning for her demise. Indeed, there seems to be an intimate connection in this film between naming and death. One character who survives the movie, but by all rights should be the least likely to do so, adopts a pseudonym for a while and is subsequently called by that pseudonym when Turkish authorities ban her girlfriend from speaking her actual name. Her partial anonymity itself appears to preserve her intact.

The third episode shares the movie's own title, "The Edge of Heaven"--but the borders in evidence are quite material rather than celestial. The scene commences with coffins crossing each other in the air, and emerging from planes in Turkey and Germany. We likewise see one of the German residents from the earlier part of the movie re-entering Turkey, having been deported for committing a murder. The only place that could possibly qualify as heaven here is Turkey, and redemption, if it can occur, seems to happen through the rehabilitation of the deceased in the eyes of those left behind.


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