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Review of “The Edge of Heaven”
Fatih Akin’s “Head-On” hit the international film world like a punch to the face in 2004. After winning Berlin’s Golden Bear, it swept the German Film Awards and took the best film nod at the European Film Awards. It also established Akin’s reputation outside of Germany as a director to watch. After appearing on the jury in Cannes in 2004 and screening his music documentary “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul” here two years ago, Akin returns with “The Edge of Heaven,” his first feature since “Head-On.” Akin speaks about love, death and growing up between two worlds.
The Hollywood Reporter: Should “The Edge of Heaven” be considered a sequel to “Head-On”?
Fatih Akin: It’s not a sequel, but it is concerned with the same general themes. When I was developing “Head-On,” I conceived of the whole thing as a trilogy — the Love, Death and the Devil trilogy. The theme of the first film (“Head-On”) was love, and the theme of this one is death. They are all very personal films. They are all my reflections about what is happening in the world. I think I’ll have one more film to reflect with and then, hopefully, I can go back to make a genre film again, which I really like doing.
THR: Unlike some of your earlier films, like “Short Sharp Shock,” “Head-On” was political, very concerned with political issues. “Edge of Heaven” is also a very political film.
Akin: All three of the films (in the trilogy) have to do with the political climate at the moment — the East-West conflict, where it is like a new Cold War. In place of the capitalist-communist divide, you have the new culture war between Christianity and Islam or democracy and Islam. This conflict is everywhere. You have it in Germany. You have it in Turkey. You have it worldwide. But you don’t see it in the cinema. So I wanted to tell, in a personal, subjective way, with personal images and symbols, the contradictions inherent in this conflict.
THR: What contradictions?
Akin: Contradictions like, for example, that the forces at the moment in Turkey that are most opposed to the Islamists are also anti-Europe, which is a contradiction in itself. Or like in “Head-On,” where you have the contradiction of freedom — where on the one hand it is liberating but in the extreme takes on pornographic tendencies. In “Edge of Heaven” the theme is what is beyond all these ideals, beyond politics, beyond ideology, that binds us together. There are six main figures in the film, and each one is an Ersatz for Europe and for Turkey, for an aspect of the European-Turkish conflict. Whether it is a father and son or whatever. What I tried to do was to personify the conflict. It takes place in both Germany and Turkey in equal measures. Neither one or the other dominates. It looks for middle ground, which is actually the message of the film. It is a story told from six personalities, six perspectives. But it isn’t an episodic film in the classic sense. There is just one story, told by different characters. Sometimes the same part of the story is told from a different perspective by another character.
THR: Structurally, that’s different from “Head-On” or any of your films so far.
Akin: It is a new form for me, a narrative experiment. “Head-On” was a very linear story with beginning, middle and end. Here I have six characters that take turns telling the story. It starts off with one character and goes in a certain direction, then moves to another figure, which takes the story in another direction, and then comes to a third, which perhaps brings the story back to the first figure, giving a different angle on his story.
THR: “Edge of Heaven” moves between Hamburg and Istanbul and focuses on the difficulties of living in two worlds. You were born and grew up in Germany of Turkish parents. Are you working out your own personal history with this film?
Akin: Yes, definitely. And also trying to exhaust it. I’m hoping with the third film that I’ll have run out of personal history and can go on to something else. But I have to tell the story to its end. It’s more as if I’m driven than as if I’ve made a conscious decision to do this. It has a lot to do with my personal history, which is a very visual history. If you grow up as a kind of two cultures, you are constantly moving between two settings, two locations. That movement is very visual, and that’s what cinema is — visualizing movement.
THR: At the moment, you’re filming a documentary. What’s it about?
Akin: It’s called “Garbage in the Garden of Eden,” and it’s about a Turkish village that has been fighting the state for 10 years because the state decided to put a garbage dump in their town. The dump is illegal, and the village is fighting for justice.
THR: You move between documentary and fiction. After “Head-On,” you made “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul,” about Turkish music. Why do you like switching between fiction and nonfiction?
Akin: For me, documentary films and drama are more symbiotic. I learn a lot about making fiction when I shoot a documentary, and I learn a lot about how to do nonfiction when I shoot drama. Then there are themes I want to tell that are better suited to nonfiction, just as there are ones better suited to drama. They complement each other. At the moment, you are seeing a blurring of the lines between documentary and drama. One of my favorite recent films was “Syriana,” which was shot in a very documentary fashion, both in the visual style and in the attempt to tell a story as realistically as possible and impart information.
And if you look at the documentaries of Nick Broomfield or Michael Moore, they have a lot in common with fiction because they are so subjective, told from a singular personal point of view. I think the line between fiction and nonfiction in cinema at the moment is very fluid. I’m also glad to see documentaries getting international attention so my documentary has a chance of reaching a worldwide audience. Then there are the practical reasons. When I do a feature film, I write it, I produce and I direct. It takes a lot of time, usually 2-3 years. In between I can fit in a documentary because the preparation time is much less. The main time involved in a documentary is the planning and the editing. The actually shooting is quite short. I can do it while preparing a feature film.
THR: You’re also spending more time producing. With your Hamburg-based company Corazon International, you’ve produced films like “Takva,” which looks at the conflict between Islamic tradition and modernity in Turkey. Why devote more time to producing?
Akin: Because I love cinema. I love stories, and I only have two hands, only two eyes. There are so many stories I’d like to see that I don’t have the time, or the ability, to make myself. Being a producer is one way to get these stories on the screen.
THR: There seems to be certain themes that run through Corazon productions. The film “Chiko,” from director Ozgur Yildirim and set in the Turkish ghettos of Hamburg, could be almost a sequel to your “Short Sharp Shock.”
Akin: Or “Takva” which I admire. It’s a film I would have liked to make myself. It would have fit well into my trilogy. Of course, I search out themes that speak to me. I couldn’t produce a film that didn’t have anything to do with me. And I think all the films from Corazon will have a certain touch, a certain style that distinguishes them.
THR: And what about the final film in the trilogy? Can you tell us anything about it?
Akin: It’s too early to say anything because it could all change. At the moment, it’s just fragments and ideas. So I can’t say anything just yet.
Nationality: German; born: Aug. 25, 1973
Selected filmography: “Short Sharp Shock” (1998), “In July” (2000), “Solino” (2002), “Head-On” (2004), “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul” (2005)
Notable awards: Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear, “Head-On” (2004); German Film Awards best film and best director, “Head-On” (2004); European Film Awards best film, “Head-On” (2004); Independent Spirit Awards best foreign film, “Head-On” (2004); Goya Awards best European film, “Head-On” (2004); Bavaria Film Awards best director, “Short Sharp Shock” (1998)
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