The Edge of Heaven

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 30, 2008

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Heavenly body: In "The Edge" Patrycia Ziolkowska (right) plays a politically active student.

Is it just me, or is "the inevitable, tragic interconnectedness of all humankind" currently in danger of replacing "wise-cracking hitmen" as the most overworked arthouse cliche of our time?

There's not really all that much wrong with The Edge of Heaven, writer/director Fatih Akin's warmly regarded follow-up to his surprise 2005 hit Head On, except that it feels so awfully familiar.

Edge is a lower key, slightly less pulverizing riff on those coincidence-driven, time-tripping sagas of suffering that director Alejandro Gonz�lez I��rritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga have been running into the ground ever since Amores Perros. (That particular team has recycled so many of the same themes and effects to such diminishing returns in both 21 Grams and Babel, I'm weary of ever watching my once-beloved Perros again.) But this is hardly just an international phenomenon, as American films from Magnolia to Crash have been mining similar turf for years.

By now you know the drill: Just as a certain scientific theory teaches us how a single butterfly flapping its wings might alter the path of a tornado, so it happens that if an elderly drunk beats up his hooker girlfriend, a revolutionary urban guerrilla group goes down for the count. Or something like that.

The alcoholic old man is named Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), a cheerfully crass lout who bullies his sensitive son Nejat (Baki Davrak) and works out a pricey living arrangement with Nursel K�se's affectingly aging prostitute, all the while boozing and smoking his way through a massive coronary.

His son, a bookish professor from a German university, naturally doesn't think much of his dad's new girlfriend. But kinship develops slowly in this patient picture, and once tragedy strikes--as it invariably does in this kind of thing-- Nejat finds himself searching far and wide for his would-be stepmother's estranged daughter.

Ayten is her name, and she's a piece of work. Played rather unsteadily by Nurg�l Yesil�ay, our lass fancies herself a political activist, and we first discover her all mixed up in the dubious doings of some gun-toting protesters. Broke and on the lam, Ayten seduces a foolishly idealistic young student (wide-eyed Patrycia Ziolkowska). Before long, their swoony, hopeless and not particularly well-acted affair arouses the ire of the coed's mom (Fassbinder favorite and new German cinema icon Hanna Schygulla).

Akin splits the movie into three chapters, the first two bearing blunt block-letter titles announcing the deaths of characters we haven't even met yet. (Thanks for the spoiler warning, Fatih.) A bit smugly bookended by matching shots of caskets being loaded and unloaded onto airplanes, these initial entries run concurrently, illustrating all sorts of maddening missed connections and almost interactions.

Everybody is always just one tiny puzzle piece shy of putting the big picture together, and eventually you can't help but wonder if these poor folks are being tossed about by the capricious winds of fate--or just jerked around by an ambitious young screenwriter.

Redemption arrives in the final segment, also called The Edge of Heaven. It's here that the filmmaker backs away from impending doom, drops the nonlinear gimmicks and at last focuses on forgiveness. A devastated Schygulla finds herself renting a room from sad-eyed Nejat in Turkey, both of them hesitantly picking up the pieces of their ruined lives. As an understated friendship blossoms, Akin downshifts the tempo and lets his scenes breathe freely for a change. The dialogue becomes sparse but far more thoughtful, relying on the beatific glow of Hanna Schygulla to eke out a little bit of hope amid this reckless heartbreak.

In fact, Akin's closing moment proves so unexpectedly sweet, you sort of hope he never figures out that an identical image was used, to much more bitterly comic effect, at the end of Barton Fink.

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