|Taking audiences to the edge of film convention|
|Award-winning movie from Germany's Fatih Akin starts a limited run in Beirut
German writer-director Fatih Akin is one of the most-lauded (relatively) young filmmakers in Europe these days.
The range he's demonstrated in the 10 films he's directed between 1995 and 2007 is as impressive as the sharp eye and storytelling skill he's exhibited in the individual works. A glance at three of his more-recent movies will suffice to demonstrate.
"Im Juli" ("In July," 2000), perhaps the first of his films to screen in Lebanon, is an after-school romantic-comic road movie tracing a man's discovery that the love he's hoping to find in Turkey has actually been traveling alongside him from Germany. Though it's also a "love story" with German and Turkish elements, Akin's 2004 film "Gegen die Wand" ("Head-On") is a lacerating tale of the meaninglessness and violence that awaits those who free themselves from the prison of family. Appearing the following year, "Crossing the Bridge" is a documentary following German rock musician Alexander Hacke's exploration of the hybridity embedded in Istanbul's pop music scene.
Not all his work dwells on the Turkish-German community, but Akin has derived some of his greatest success from work informed by his Turkish roots. His 2007 film "The Edge of Heaven," which opens at the Metropolis Art Cinema on Wednesday, also takes up trans-cultural themes. In terms of critical acclaim and festival awards, the film has also been his most-successful to this point.
Winner of the best screenplay prize at Cannes last year, and a slew of awards since then, "Heaven" echoes Akin's earlier features insofar as its German characters begin in Europe before events take them to Turkey. The weighty plot and ensemble cast of "Heaven" posed certain challenges to Akin, though, and the way he chose to cope with them makes this film a stylistic departure from his earlier work.
There are three families at the center of "Heaven." The film commences in Germany when the 70-something Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) strikes up a relationship with a prostitute named Yeter (Nursel Kose). A widowed Turkish emigre himself, Ali soon finds Yeter is also from Turkey, which provokes a mixture of shame and longing within him.
After several more visits, he proposes that Yeter abandon her trade and move in with him, promising he'll pay her a salary equal what she makes at her shop-front operation. As she's being harassed by couple of thuggish Turkish Islamists, Yeter accepts the offer.
Ali's son Nejat (Baki Davrak), a university professor in Bremen, absorbs his father's new living arrangements with restrained bewilderment, but he finds himself liking the matter-of-fact Yeter, who informs him that she entered the sex trade to pay for her daughter's education in Turkey.
An altercation between Ali and Yeter compels Nejat to leave Germany for Turkey. Disgusted with his father, Nejat decides he must find Yeter's daughter in Istanbul, but gradually finds himself drawn into life in that city. Happenstance leads him into a German-Turkish bookshop, where he finds the German owner is trying to find someone to take over the operation for him.
The film's Istanbul plot centers on Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay). A leftist activist, the camera finds her in the midst of a street demonstration. Crashed by Turkish police, the protest turns violent, forcing Ayten to assume a forged identity and flee to Germany, where her mother lives. There she makes contact with the emigre branch of her party but soon falls out with them.
Destitute, she kills time at a university, where she naps through one of Nejat's lectures, panhandles a little and meets Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska). A middle class-backpacker type, Lotte's mix of politically aware rebelliousness, naivete and taste for the exotic draw her to Ayten, both emotionally and physically.
She invites Ayten to stay with her and her mum Susanne (Hanna Schygulla, the female lead in Volker Schlondorff's 1981 Lebanese war movie "Circle of Deceit"), though Susanne is uncomfortable about hosting an illegal alien on the run from Turkish police.
Ayten's application for asylum is rejected and she is deported back to Turkey, where she will face a stint in prison. The smitten Lotte follows her to Istanbul. Happenstance thrusts her together with the now-relocated Nejat, who - for reasons by now obvious to the audience but not to him or Lotte - has been unsuccessful in finding Yeter's daughter.
The strength of "The Edge of Heaven" that most-deserves noting (if only because it is most easily overlooked) is the acting of the principle cast, all six of whom carry off superbly controlled performances. Control also characterizes the cinematography (overseen by Akin's habitual collaborator Rainer Klausmann), which avoids the Germany-is-hell-on-earth and Turkey-is-its-heaven visual dichotomies you might fear from the film's title.
Over the last year, Akin's writing has most-frequently blown away audiences. Indeed, it is to his credit that the plot - which is nowhere near done when Lotte and Nejat meet - never weighs leaden upon the audience, as it does in certain plot- and character-heavy features from, say, Egypt.
He is able to avoid the accumulated weight of incident by short-circuiting the chronological narrative conventions generally observed in popular cinema - a linear plot (or plots in parallel) augmented by clearly demarcated flashbacks. Instead, key elements of the story are cut away from expository context and thrust against one another. Flouting conventional linearity in this way can enliven a story without being needlessly confusing - it's not unlike the way a piece of modal jazz contrasts with Dixieland.
Akin isn't the first filmmaker to fiddle around with narrative linearity, of course, but the seepage of such practice into mainstream movies seems to be a 21st-century phenomenon. The most-recent use of the form came late last year with Kelley Sane and Gavin Hood's "Rendition," but the first movie like this to be taken up by middle-brow audiences was probably Jon and Christopher Nolan's 2000 feature, "Memento." The writer-director duo that has become most intimately associated with the non-linear narrative, though, are Guillermo Arriaga and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose trilogy "Amores Perros" (2000), "21 Grams" (2003), and "Babel" (2006) has accumulated a larger audience with each film that's been released.
The German-Turkish relationship may be one that Akin has much visited but, stylistically, "The Edge of Heaven" bears the fingerprints of Arriaga, who worked (uncredited) as Akin's script consultant. Those who regard the fractured, non-chronological plots of Arriaga and Inarritu as products of virtuoso editing, rather than good filmmaking, may have similar problems with "Heaven." In any case, Akin's evocation of human intimacy amid cultural alienation is strong enough that the film be evaluated on its own merits.
Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven" screens at the Metropolis Cinema (Masrah al-Madina, Hamra Street) from April 30 to May 11. The film is subtitled in English and tickets go for L£5,000 apiece. Doors open at 8 p.m. For information ring 70106793.
Beirut,05 05 2008
The Daily Star