A Family Affair

5.19.2008

By Dale Peck

Fans of Alejandro Gonz'lez I''rritu or Krzysztof Kieslowski will likely be drawn to Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven. Born in Hamburg but 'raised in Turkish,' Akin is a poster boy for the kinder, gentler -- read: less blatantly xenophobic -- Germany, and his fifth feature vividly evokes the tense relationship between the Fatherland and its largest single minority. The intricate, lively story slips and slides between countries, languages, and ethnicities, fragmenting along temporal lines in the manner of Gonz'lez I''rritu's Amores Perros and superimposing various characters' story lines a la Kieslowski's Three Colors. In the end, however, everything comes together -- narratively, at least, although closure for the various surviving characters remains somewhat more evanescent.

To call them 'surviving' doesn't give away anything, since the first two of the movie's three titled sections are labeled 'Yeter's Death' and 'Lotte's Death.' This isn't a movie about surprises, in other words, but about fate, and the inextricable if often invisible ties binding individuals and families and ethnicities. Ali, a retired widower born in Trabzon but living in Bremen, invites a 40-something Turkish prostitute named Yeter to live with him. Yeter develops a surprising closeness with Ali's grown son, Nejat -- so close that Ali comes to believe his son is sleeping with the woman he pays for sex. He smacks Yeter, who hits her head against a bed frame and dies; with his father imprisoned, it falls to Nejat to bring Yeter's body back to Turkey. Though Nejat is the ultimate integrated immigrant -- he teaches German literature in a Hamburg university to a room of bored or sleeping students -- he ends up staying in Istanbul, where he buys a German-language bookstore and attempts to find Yeter's daughter, Ayten, who seems to have vanished.

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