Auf der anderen Seite | The Edge of Heaven [2007]

3/10 | 28.Aug.12
Auf der anderen Seite | The Edge of Heaven

DIRECTOR: Fatih Akin | WRITER: Fatih Akin | CAST: Baki Davrak, Nurgül Yesilçay, Hanna Schygulla, Tuncel Kurtiz, Patrycia Ziolkowska, Nursel Köse | Germany

I haven’t seen a movie as exasperating as The Edge of Heaven in I can’t remember how long. If it were a shoddily made unserious film about nonsense it wouldn’t matter, but although screenwriter-director Fatih Akin had the germ of a good idea and obviously the budget and cast to make a quality film, he should have handed the writing and directing tasks to others since he clearly was not up to either. The movie is about missed connections, making mistakes, muddling through, and Akin structures it as two parallel plots with such significant links and overlapping characters that they actually form a unified plot that we can see but the characters cannot. A skilled screenwriter and director could make that structure work, but Akin piles outlandish coincidence on contrived set up on cliché over and over again to a point beyond absurdity — crummy television sketch comedy isn’t as contrived.

And talk about Chekhov’s gun! Chekhov’s famous dictum (well, comment anyway) about the conservation of detail — don’t introduce a gun into Act 1 if it’s not going to be fired by Act 3 — seems to have been taken as a rule for plot construction by Akin. Literally. A gun is introduced and a gun is used. Renowned movie critic Roger Ebert concedes that there are problems with the plot* when he says that “[t]he best approach is to begin with the characters, because the wonderful, sad, touching ‘The Edge of Heaven’ is more about its characters than about its story.” But the characters aren’t in themselves particularly interesting or complex and, in fact, seem to be needed mechanistically to further the plot along: these are not people who inhabit a real world outside the confines of this film.

Akin has even less skill as a director. Scenes are awkwardly blocked and whenever you sense that care was taken in composing a shot it looks forced and, well, contrived. And the entire opening sequence of the film is repeated shortly before the end. That’s it: it’s repeated without any variation, without any additions, and without any real added value to the audience aside from knowing who the character is now, but our appreciation of the scene (he gets his car filled and buys a sandwich and a drink at a roadside gas station) is not heightened nor does seeing it again shed new light on the preceding almost 2 hours. The acting is perfectly ordinary for the most part with only Nursel Köse managing to make her character — a middle aged Turkish immigrant in Germany who works as a prostitute — into a believable human being rather than a type. Hanna Schygulla’s reputation as a magnificent screen actor eluded me yet again: she’s as placid and dull as ever in a part that needn’t have been either.

*Ebert actually writes this in his review: “Mere plot points are meaningless.” So I guess it doesn’t matter when he tells us that we’re introduced to a major character at a point about 40 minutes into the film when, in fact, the very first scene in the movie is focused on that character, and he appears in scene after scene following it. Was Ebert in and out of the room while the first half of the movie was playing?

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