Review of “The Edge of Heaven”


A depiction of lives colliding and converging in modern Istanbul and Hamburg, The Edge of Heaven is the latest film
from Turkish-German director Fatih Akin (Head-On).
Well received at the Cannes
film festival and beautifully crafted, the movie features a lesbian couple at
the center of its complex East-meets-West plot.

The film is a clever, twisting affair, making use of three
languages and multiple concurrent story lines (much like Crash or 21 Grams). But
thanks to an excellent sense of pacing and strong, assured performances from
the six leads, everything is quite easy to follow. It’s even organized neatly
into three (dramatically named) chapters: "The Death of Yeter," "The
Death of Lotte" and "The Edge of Heaven." Each segment follows a
specific character set until their paths merge and the threads unravel.

Warning: Some Spoilers

The story opens with Ali Aksu (Tuncel Kurtiz), a cheerful
elderly man who frequents a beautiful prostitute, Yeter (Nursel Köse). Before
long, he asks her to move in with him, and she accepts. Ali lives with his son,
Nejat (Baki Davrak), a professor at a German university. The three share a
relatively happy life until Ali has a heart attack and turns into an angry and
jealous man. He hits Yeter in a bout of rage, accidentally killing her and
prompting Nejat to move to Istanbul
in search of Yeter’s daughter.

Nurgül Yesilçay

We meet the daughter,
Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay), as she is running from the cops at a student
protest. She is a revolutionary and a fighter, and she narrowly escapes arrest
only to go into hiding in Germany.
Looking for food on a university campus, she meets a sweet German student,
Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), beginning the film’s central love affair.

Hanna Schygulla (left) and Patrycia Ziolkowska

Lotte takes Ayten into her home (and, if the cliché rings
true, her heart) and they fall in love, despite the trepidation of Lotte’s
reserved mother, Susanne (Hanna Schygulla). Ayten is unfortunately arrested for
entering Germany illegally
and is sent to prison in Istanbul.
Lovesick, Lotte follows her, moving into Nejat’s flat while she tries to help
Ayten’s case.

At its heart, this is a film about father/son and
mother/daughter pairs, although the central relationship (and only romantic
love story) is between Lotte and Ayten. While both characters are appealing,
Ayten especially catches the eye. We first meet her in action, fleeing police
at the violent protest — the perfect entrance for such a strong, fiery
character. It’s easy to see why Lotte is so taken with her, although it seems a
bit contrived that she would invite a stranger to live in her home. (Could
anyone truly be so naïve?)

All of the couple’s scenes together are sweet and
believable, even if Lotte’s initial overwhelming generosity isn’t. Great
strength and chemistry bridge the cultural and social barriers between these
women, and a “love conquers all” undercurrent runs through their story line.

Yesilçay (left) and Ziolkowska

It’s wonderfully refreshing to see a multi-ethnic lesbian
couple at the center of a film that isn’t billed as a “queer movie,” and to see
that their sexuality is a non-issue. In fact, the couple is presented as
remarkably balanced and happy. Even when Ayten is hauled off to jail, Lotte
fights the Turkish legal system for the right to see her partner, and she gets herself
into more than her fair share of trouble trying to help Ayten continue her
fight from inside her cell.

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