Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite Fatih Akin, 2007) opens and closes with scene--a trip to the Black Sea made by Nejat, one of the film's six main characters. Nejat is a professor of German literature, whose father, Ali, is imprisoned after killing a woman whom he paid to come and live with him. This woman, Yeter, has a daughter, Ayten, who escapes from a protest in Turkey to Germany where she meets up, and soon falls in love with a university student, Lotte. The sixth of these characters is Lotte's mother, Susanne (played by Fassbinder's "muse" Hanna Schygulla), who watches on as her daughter follows Ayten to Turkey, and finally travels there to collect her daughter's belongings after she is killed by some Kurdish children who steal the gun that Ayten had hidden. Just in these few sentences, the raveled nature of the plot can be seen. As Thomas Elsaesser suggests, we should assume that Akin knows what he is doing. Elsaesser's evidence for this is the way in which some of the hard, empirical facts of Turkish culture enter into this otherwise serendipitous plot line. Unlike Tom Tykwer's Die Krieger und die Kaiserin (2000), however, the chance encounters made possible do not pan out. Whereas Tykwer's film suggests that coincidence (Zufall) is something that allows for a second chance, Akin does not draw this equation between coincidence and second chance, much less between coincidence and chance.
Elsaesser, a Brecht scholar (and also a scholar of Fassbinder), suggests that some of Akin's other devices, such as the band which plays at the beginning, end, and interludes of Head On (Gegen die Wand 2005), distance and estrange to allow for critical reflection "on the social forces" behind things. This "self-reflexivity," which Elsaesser notes Akin also wants, seems to be what is most aroused by the "intersecting" but not "converging" nature of the parallel lives in the narrative. If it is self-reflexivity that is the result, then, of chance, how does this relate to the fact that seemingly little else is produced by coincidence?
Awareness certainly seems to be one of the things up for grabs in the film. I also happened to watch another film that deliberates (albeit on a different level) on the role of chance, Puccini for Beginnners (Maria Maggenti, 2006), which ends with some commentary on the role of chance--that Freud's comment that there are no coincidences is certainly true because our capacity for awareness is so much greater than for registration. This is my rephrasing, at least. In The Edge of Heaven, awareness refers to both the characters' fated missed passings and their relationships with the social world around them. This is most pointedly portrayed in the contrast between the level of political involvement held by the two women who are together at the end of the film, Susanne and Ayten. In their first encounter, Ayten rails against her for her seeming lack of awareness of how things really are for Turkish people. Susanne's tired, worn gaze tells us more, however, so that the type of political and social awareness that the film is after is here held in tension.
picture: LA in gray/Urban Ocotillo