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The Edge of Heaven

In Romantic literature, the world was very small, with very few people in it.   I remember this especially while reading Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens.    There was never a character introduced, however minor and insignificant, who didn’t appear later at some crucial moment, bearing a grudge or owing a favor, and thus giving the plot an ornery little twist.    This eventually became unpopular, because tastes change, and, well, the world’s just not that small, and there are plenty of people in it.   The chances of meeting the same stranger twice are much lower than Dickens or Hugo made them out to be.  

A sort of mirror-image of this type of literature has emerged in the movies over the last few years; Alissa Quart dubbed it “hyperlink cinema” a few years ago in Film Comment.   Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s films (“21 Grams,” “Babel,”  “Amores Perros”) are prime examples, so he might be considered the poster boy of hyperlink cinema.   Other examples “Crash,”  “Traffic,”  “Happy Endings,” and “Syriana.”    And now “Edge of Heaven,”  a German-Turkish film from director Fatih Akin, can be added to that list.  

What I’m talking about are movies with several different, seemingly unrelated storylines that are all connected in some small way.   The action of one character, unbeknownst to them, affects another character, and the film follows that effect, instead of the character.   People are linked up in interesting, often surprising ways, and the whole thing has a “butterfly effect” feel to it.   Generally hyperlink movies are more credible than Romantic literature; the point is that our actions often have consequences we know nothing about, rather than the Romantic notion that you never know when a stranger will reappear in your life. 

All of this feels terribly academic.   Here’s how it plays out in “The Edge of “Heaven:” Ali is a Turkish man living in Germany.   He’s old enough to get away with being a dirty old man, and seems to relish the role.   Yeter is a prostitute he visits regularly, and eventually he invites her to come live with him.  She accepts.   Yeter has a daughter in Turkey named Ayten she has not heard from in quite some time.   Ali has a son, named Nejat, who is a German professor.  In a drunken rage, Ali accidentally kills Yeter, and is shipped back to Turkey to be tried for this crime (which actually isn’t a crime in Turkey.)  A guilt-stricken Nejat goes to Turkey to look for Ayten, to let her know that her mother is dead and help her out any way he can.

Ayten, though, is in Germany.  She is part of a political resistance movement, and when her apartment is raided and her friends arrested, she flees the country.   She makes friends – erm, a bit more than friends – with Charlotte, who is a student at the University where Nejat teaches.   When Ayten gets deported and imprisoned in Turkey, Charlotte goes there to try and help, despite her mother’s protests.  Charlotte rents a room from – who else? -  Nejat, who has bought a bookstore and almost given up hope on finding Ayten. 

As you can see, it’s almost impossible to write a plot summary for a movie like this, because this kind of plot refuses to be reduced or condensed.   Trust me that it’s a lot easier to watch than to read about, and unfolds a lot more organically. 

“The Edge of Heaven” unfolds methodically, slowly, beautifully.  It is a movie about characters in a situation, instead of the usual fare about a situation that happens some characters.   It is crude at times and seems to go out of its way to offend a more conservative sensibility (though, in spite of a plot involving a prostitute and two young lesbians, there is no sex scene or nudity) but continually, consistently asks the viewer, through close observation and an aversion for overstatement, to care about the characters in spite of their faults.  It is divided into chapters and has no real climax or resolution – you keep waiting for the characters to happen upon some grand revelation of how they are all connected, but it never happens.   It feels like it could go on and on forever, one chapter after another, continuing to introduce new characters that are subtly connected to all the old characters, until it encompasses the whole world.   And yet it never feels long, or boring, or slow.    If “hyperlink cinema” is truly a new genre, “The Edge of Heaven” is a great addition to it, and shows its potential for telling stories across cultures, generations, and boundaries. 

Recommended

  • If you liked “Babel,”  “Crash,”  “Syriana”  and/or “21 Grams.” 
  • If you’re interested in the interplay between Turkish/German citizens, and the like.
  • If you like stories about people more than stories involving people.  
  • If you understand the difference between those two things.

 Not Recommended

  • If you hate subtitles.
  • If you don’t like movies without clear conflict, climax, resolution storylines. (ie, you’re likely to complain about a movie in which “nothing happened.”) 
  • If you’d rather not see a movie involving dirty old men, prostitutes, lesbians, and “terrorists.” 

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