22 July 2008 | Michael Fargo
Once every few years, a film this touching comes along
I usually comment on films right after I've seen them. However, "Auf der anderen Seite" (The Edge of Heaven), touched me in a way that few films do, so a month has passed.
This story of two sets of mothers and daughters, a father and his son...and a gun seems familiar, but its resolution is anything but. To lay out the plot would be daunting. So much ground is covered, yet it unfolds effortlessly. F a t i h Akin's screenplay is elliptical--the story starts where it finishes--but by the end, when the opening scene is replayed, our journey with these characters puts us, indeed, on the edge of transcendence.
Amid the desperation on display, small details brim over the images: a son waters his father's tomato plants pausing to taste the ripened fruit, a mother pits cherries that stain her fingers, another manicures her nails to avoid a quarrel, we imagine a bookstore's--specifically a German language bookstore in Istanbul--smell and the safety it can bring to a foreigner.... These domestic details are set against much larger, although finally insignificant, struggles: the cultural divide of immigrants, students revolting against an oppressive government, how imprisonment can deaden the soul. But F a t i h Akin wants the basic struggles of family bonds to be central here. It's the resolution of family rifts--small and large, emotional and physical--that are urgent.
The choice of settings, music, lighting... all carefully selected to build toward one moment that catches us off guard. When a foreigner asks "What is Kurban Bayrami?" (a Turkish holiday) the many seemingly disparate elements that we've been watching--in good faith because they're so rivetingly told--suddenly come together, it almost knocked the breath out of me.
Whether or not we as viewers have lost a father or mother or a child, through death, physical separation or emotional turmoil, we can understand what these characters suffer. And how all that can be healedthe willingness to have faith that good intentions can mend this troubled worldis something like a miracle to find illustrated on film. The weapons these characters lay down to pursue goodness don't necessarily have the effect they intend, but as we watch lives torn apart and then healed we see what they don't. And we carry that lesson out of theater with us.