Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven has to be one of the best films of 2008. A complex, interweaving narrative of six characters in Germany and Turkey, it has a deft structure and some of the most memorable performances. The film is about “going home” in a world where everyone seems to be displaced, either emotionally, physically or both. Turkish immigrants in Germany (Hambourg) are firmly anchored in both worlds, including Akin himself, born of parents with German and Mexican pedigree in Germany. The narrative shifts from Hamburg to Turkey only to find that the two worlds are so incomplete and so innately connected. Incomplete because the assurance of German identity gives away quicky to larger (European! Cosmopolitan?) perspectives and the search for Turkish identity collapses into questions about revolution, freedom and the possiblity of “speaking to each other” in a mixed world.
Akin shows, perhaps unbeknownst to himself (the accompanying docu about “making the film” strips away the authorial depth), that this is how the world is shaped now. There is no returning home. It is only a question of returning to our lost ideals or finding new ones. This is encapsulated best by the character of Susanne Staub played by the ever so elegant Hanna Schygulla. As the mother of Lotte, a generous, warm hearted idealist German whose friendship with Nejat propels the narrative into multiple levels of questinos about the new generations in these countries, Hanna Schygulla’s Susanne at once shows the hard nosed tradition of the “older” (core?) Europe but at the same time holds the key to understanding the emerging worlds. She is hesitant first at her daughter’s relationship but then gives in only to realize what commensurability of souls can merge the worlds.
This film is about the new “cosmopolitanism” in world cinema. It is now possible to be anchored in your own soil, your own nationhood, either blessed by the nation-state or by your own loyalties but at the same time belong to that larger world that holds hope for a universal, broader language of humanity.
When it comes to “foreign” cinema, we are never too shocked at how The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences or for that matter, the movie going public in general can ignore what they cannot grasp. There is the irony. The world that should be more worldly believes in parochial values. And those who are locked in more real conflicts than we are, are searching for more meaningful solutions.
© Shekhar Deshpande
December 25, 2008