risky business

Akin's dual allegiance reflects in his movies

Fatih Akin is riding two horses as the Oscar race for best foreign-language feature rounds the far bend, heading to the Jan. 22 announcement of Academy Award nominations. For while Akin is director of "The Edge of Heaven," Germany's entry this year, he also is one of the producers of "Takva," Turkey's official submission.

Akin's dual allegiance is only fitting, of course, since he was born in Hamburg, Germany, to parents who emigrated from Turkey. His mixed heritage is reflected in his films.

"Heaven," which Strand will release stateside, revolves around three family pairings — a Turkish father and son, a German mother and daughter and a Turkish mother and daughter — whose lives interact as the story shuttles between the two countries. Structurally, it's a twisty movie, with plot lines that overlap, sometimes tracking back in time, and title cards that announce the impending deaths of central characters even before the audience is fully introduced to them.

But while the subject matter allows the director to continue to explore dueling cultures, the specifics of the plot did not come easily to him. In fact, after the international success of 2004's "Head-On," he admits to struggling with writer's block.

"The whole thing was a bit like a puzzle," Akin says of "Heaven." "I collected a lot of bricks, but I didn't know what to do with them. I think the first brick was meeting (iconic German actress) Hanna Schygulla at a film festival while I was touring with 'Head-On.' She expressed a desire to work with me, and I knew I wanted to work with her."

In "Heaven," Schygulla plays the German mother, who has difficulty understanding why her daughter has befriended a young Turkish woman.

About working out the screenplay, Akin says: "I'm a fan of the work of Guillermo Arriaga, the writer of '21 Grams' and 'Amores Perros.' I really like how these sort of stories are told. I wanted to try something different from my own work. It's not possible to tell this story in a chronological way. The film has a structure that is more like a book, like literature."

Akin's efforts haven't gone unnoticed. "Heaven" picked up an award for its screenplay at this year's Festival de Cannes and was honored for its screenplay this month at the European Film Awards.

Meanwhile, through his Hamburg-based production company Corazon International, Akin also is busy as a producer, having helped set up the financing for Ozer Kiziltan's "Takva," a Turkish film about a devout Islamic man who takes a job as a rent collector only to find his fundamentalism challenged as he ventures into the modern world. The film was written by Onder Cakar, a friend of Akin's who Akin frequently consults when he's working on the rough cuts of his own features. When Cakar showed him his screenplay, Akin volunteered to help with the production.

"I'm very comfortable as a producer," Akin says. "I trust the vision of the director, and so my company helps find money for them. When I produce, I express my ideas and might also offer ideas about editing, but I don't force anything on anyone."

While "Takva" focuses on conflict within the Muslim world, "Heaven" looks at the conflicts between Muslims and the West. Says Akin: "I think it's good for cinema. Whenever there is a clash or conflict, you have to put that on camera. And conflict makes for drama."

"Heaven" suggests that culture clash can result in mutual understanding, but, says Akin: "I don't try to create a certain tolerant culture. I'm not a missionary on these things. But my idea is that facing the death of a human being is the same no matter which color or nationality."
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