Movie Review: Edge of Heaven

The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite)
Directed by Fatih Akin
October 3-5, Bijou

There is an old poem by Horace that celebrates simple country living; its surprise ending is that the whole thing turns out to be the pitch of a city dweller trying to sell some rural property. During the Olympics, there was a series of ads—Go World—narrated by Morgan Freeman, which, but for their lack of irony, reminded me of that Horatian epode. If we reduce those stirring, kitschy ads to their true content, they read essentially thus: Forget your unique cultural textures, if indeed any still remain, and forget especially the nasty political regimes that regulate our ability to manipulate consumers and markets; focus just on your roles as passive spectators of action and potential runners-up of high-interest debt: We are all equal, we are all consumers. Go World! The ads, I believe, were for Visa.

Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven—the German title translates literally as “On the Other Side”—is a movie with a feel for what unique cultural textures and real national divisions still remain in our world, but it is equally alive to the genuine hopes and profound difficulties of universal justice. At the same time, the movie tells two interlocked tales about the love and struggle between parents and children. I say “at the same time,” because neither the political story nor the human story can be relegated to the backdrop.

The writer-director, Fatih Akin, was born in Germany of Turkish parentage, and the complex German-Turkish relationship is integrated into the generational drama. If you are unfamiliar with the German-Turkish situation, a good starting-point is to think about undocumented Mexicans in America. But the situation, unbelievably enough, is even more complicated than ours for two big reasons: (1) Turks are mostly Muslim, so the cultural divides with a secular German with Christian roots are deeper; and (2) there is the problem of the value of the European Union and of Turkey’s membership in it.

The initial plot is set in motion when two Turks in Germany meet up by chance: a retired widower, Ali, and a prostitute, Yeter. Ali falls for Yeter and offers to pay her regular salary if she lives and sleeps exclusively with him. (A German philosopher once defined marriage as a contract between two people for lifelong use of their sexual organs–he was unmarried.) Yeter does move in with Ali, at first to the chagrin of Nejat, Ali’s son and a professor of German literature. A separate plotline concerns Yeter’s estranged daughter, Ayten, a feisty young Turkish activist, and the trouble Ayten gets into with the Turkish government. The first plotline drifts from Germany to Turkey; the second drifts from Turkey to Germany and ends up involving yet one more parent-child relationship—between a German mother and her rebellious college-student Lotte.

It’s to the writer-director’s credit that these plotlines cross and overlap in important ways, but never quite as one expects. The story is told with terrific urgency. Few scenes are lingered on; there is so much to get to: murder, romance, crime, plot twists, and all the other good stuff of the movies. Yet there are a few crucial moments where the camera lingers and the story pauses, usually to take note of a character’s relationship to a room. The global world painted by the film is so dislocating and even random that homey rooms are needful stays against confusion. One of my favorite scenes, as a book lover myself, is of Nejat walking into a German bookstore in Turkey and simply savoring the walls of literature.

After their paths have tragically intersected, the German mother stands beside Nejat in Turkey and asks him what the Turks are being called to worship. He explains that it pertains to the story of Abraham and Isaac, a story that he was rightly horrified of as a child. She says, “We have the same story.” It is a wonderful fact—and I don’t mean this entirely ironically—that Christians and Muslims can find common ground in the story of a parent’s willingness to kill his child. The mother asks Nejat what his own father said to him about the story. Ali told his son that he would make God an enemy sooner than harming his boy. Go World.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


40 Years Forward:

A Celebration of Empowerment & Hope

Deb Talan of "The Weepies" will begin our night of celebration with a story of survival, empowerment, and hope told through words and song. Join us in remembering our past and envisioning the future at the Coralville Mariott.


Friday, September 20 at 7:30 p.m.

For 18 years...

Little Village has been telling the truth and changing our little corner of the world.

If you can, help us head into the next 18 years even stronger with a one-time or monthly contribution of $18, or any amount you choose.


A collaboration between The Englert Theatre and FilmScene


Help us build the greatest small city for the arts in America—right here in Iowa City. Learn more »

Donate Today

Strengthen • Grow • Evolve is a collaborative campaign led by two Iowa City-based arts nonprofits, The Englert Theatre and FilmScene that seeks a major reinvestment to strengthen the arts through modern and historic venues, innovative programming, and new models of collaboration.

Little Village's

From Aug. 1-Sept. 30, cast your vote for your favorite places, people, eats and entertainment around the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area.

Don't forget to explain your picks! The best answers will be published in LV's Best of the CRANDIC issue, out Dec. 3, 2019.