VIDEO: The trailer for Auf der anderend Seite
As a German of Turkish descent, Fatih Akin has demonstrated an understandable preoccupation with borders — national, cultural, generational, sexual — in his films. They’re all shadows, perhaps, of the ultimate border, the one between life and death. The disastrous lovers in his Gegen die Wand|Head-On (2005), weary of battering themselves against the limitations of their lives, rush headlong toward suicide. But the characters in his new Auf der anderen Seite|The Edge of Heaven don’t share that compulsion. Mortality, they realize, is one border that doesn’t need to be rushed. Best to ponder what remains on this side and come to terms with what is lost to the other. And so the mood in Auf der anderen Seite is more somber, without much of Gegen die Wand’s anarchic, dark hilarity.
Auf Der Anderen Seite|The Edge Of Heaven | Directed and Written by Fatih Akin | with Nurgül Yesilçay, Hanna Schygulla, Baki Davrak, Tuncel Kurtiz, Patrycja Ziólkowska, and Nursel Köse | Strand Releasing | German + Turkish + English | 122 minutes
Akin talks Turkey: Cutting Edge of Heaven. By Peter Keough.
But though Akin brings a more subdued attitude to the border crossings in Auf der anderen Seite, in which countries and cultures leapfrog, circle, and blur before snapping back into an uncrossable frontier, the process has a more radical effect on his narrative. It’s a better-than-usual version of the currently popular multiple-story-line format. Beginning in the middle, it follows in three chapters the courses of its four major characters, forward and back in time, returning to where the lines intersect, or fail to, each return underscoring some missed opportunity, ignored solution, or ironic realization.
Some of the coincidences and blown chances might have made Krzysztof Kieslowski wince, but for the most part Akin doesn’t succumb to Babel-like patness (though one scene involving children and a gun seems like a direct allusion to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film). Instead, Auf der anderen Seite takes on some of the grace and inevitability of Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy, its tone of grief in particular reminiscent of Bleu.
Leaving little to suspense, Akin titles the film’s first two chapters “Yeter’s Death” and “Lotte’s Death.” How they die, however, is not so predictable. In the first, Turkish-born 50ish Yeter (Nursel Köse) is earning her keep in the Bremen red-light district when fundamentalist thugs demand she “repent.” Rather than comply, she takes up an offer from Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), a regular client and a Turkish widower, to move in. Ali’s son Nejat (Baki Davrak), a professor in Hamburg, gives grudging approval. When Yeter dies, Nejat heads to Turkey to find Yeter’s estranged daughter, Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay).
Meanwhile, Lotte (Patrycja Ziólkowska), an earnest student at Nejat’s university, bumps into Ayten — who’s penniless and in flight from Turkish authorities for her radical political activities — at the campus cafeteria. (It has the cheapest food in town.) Lotte offers Ayten a loan, some sympathy, and ultimately lodgings and love. Her mother. Susanne (Hanna Schygulla, old and stout but still æthereal), gives grudging approval. The authorities not so much. Lotte ends up in Istanbul in search of something elusive and fatal.
The final chapter, “The Edge of Heaven” (the German title, which means “On the Other Side,” is more suggestive), reorients the overlapping chronologies, but doesn’t tie them up neatly. Rather than cling to the safety of platitudes or false resolutions, Akin crosses into the borderless realm where love and reconciliation almost, but don’t quite, make up for all that is lost.