'Edge' is a heaven on earth

Review A+

August 08, 2008|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun movie critic

The jigsaw-puzzle, time-hopping storytelling of movies from Pulp Fiction to 21 Grams becomes a movie version of a lyric, musical round in The Edge of Heaven, Fatih Akin's superb film about the eternal pull of family. Since it's released by a small company and will be playing at the Charles, movie lovers should see it right away - partly to get the word of mouth going so it will last more than a week, and partly so they can have a chance to see it again.

Akin, born of Turkish parents in Germany, sets a tale of mothers and daughters, a father and a son against contemporary turmoil in Turkey and Germany. The catalytic characters are a retired widower (Tuncel Kurtiz) and a hooker (Nursel Kose), both natives of Turkey living in Germany; the widower's son (Baki Davrak), a professor of German literature; and the hooker's daughter (Nurgul Yesilcay), a political activist. All are unique, vibrant and splendid.

When he asks the prostitute to live with him (and pays her to do so), Kurtiz etches the follies of a modest man with an earthy vitality and fullness that absorbs his crudeness, while Kose is amazingly soulful as a proud woman who will sell her body, not her heart. Davrak builds his character subtly, scene by scene, as a cultured fellow who's grown diffident in the shadow of his rambunctious parent; his unexpected sensitivity to his father's declasse new housemate, which you see in the warming of his eyes, wins you over. And Yesilcay has a firebrand sensuality as a woman who has poured her ardor into militancy.

But the characters who bring the story full circle and send the movie into a dizzying orbit are a German student (Patrycia Ziolkowska) who becomes smitten with the activist, and the student's initially disapproving mother (Hanna Schygulla), who eventually shows her love in surprising ways. Ziolkowska expresses the lightning-bolt sureness of love at first sight with stunning, aching persuasiveness; she becomes the radical girl's family through sheer ardor. Schygulla conveys the way a mother tries to see the world through her child's eyes with titanic spiritual shifts that seem to send sparks into her broad, handsome face through her thick, compelling body.

With two instances of violence more abrupt and thus more terrifying than blockbuster-style bloodletting, and subplots that acknowledge deportations, crackdowns on dissidents, and the threats of fundamentalist Muslim expatriates, the movie confronts the confusions of contemporary life without letting them overwhelm its core values.

Like Tom McCarthy's The Visitor, Akin's movie is about the spaces people need to travel, and to live in, to find out what they want and who they are. Though I love McCarthy's movie, The Edge of Heaven - with its virtuoso narrative and frames packed to bursting with unruly life - has the potency of The Visitor squared.


The Edge of Heaven

(Strand Releasing) Starring Tuncel Kurtiz, Nursel Kose, Nurgul Yesilcay, Patrycia Ziolkowska, Hanna Schygulla. Directed by Fatih Akin. Unrated. Time 116 minutes. In German, Turkish and English with English subtitles.

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