Music and theater and opera and art and the whole damn thing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Forgiveness: Fatih Akin's Edge of Heaven

Cedric demanded that we go to Film Forum last night for the final showing of Fatih Akin's Edge of Heaven. I was of two minds, but it was my last chance to get together with Cedric before he goes to Istanbul next Sunday (I was there last October), and sell him my last 50 YTL note and my akbil (bus-tram-ferry token), and the movie, made by a German of Turkish parentage, is about the entwinement of the two nations in these times, which will work itself out still further this afternoon, I daresay, when they take each other on in the EuroCup - a game I hope to watch if I can find a pleasant restaurant showing it. (I watched Turkey beat Croatia last Friday, and Spain beat Italy, in the presence of los Reyes yet, on Sunday, both on penalty kicks - does anyone ever shoot a goal in this game?)

So we went to Edge of Heaven, and I have to say I found it touching, a gently rambling roundabout bit of storytelling about the conflict of generations, of lifestyles, of nationalities - and about reconciliation, and love that transcends these boundaries.

Romantic love, which is usually the metaphor in dramatic art for such reconciliation, would be the easy way out, but Akin does not take it. I give him points for that. The two sexual relationships among the six main characters are both unfortunate and lead to unnecessary and destructive violence. I gather that Akin's previous film, which concerned a "marriage of inconvenience," also did not take an easy, romantic way out, so that the love that did arise seemed more adult, had more important obstacles to conquer. I admire an artist who can make us understand love without using romance.

The film's tortuous, winding path takes us past many coincidences - a cute trick, but not an unrealistic one - and we do not learn, for instance, until the end that the first scene of the film (which is repeated) occurs chronologically after the rest. In the early part of the film, too, we see a character trying to teach a class on nationalism and revolution in a German college - ironically, he is a German-born Turk - and we see someone asleep in the classroom. When we see the image again, half the film later, we know a great deal more about both these characters (who never actually meet) and, among other ironies, we know the sleeper is an actual revolutionary. Akin, whatever his politics (and they clearly transcend nation and religion and other artificial boundaries in their sympathies), shows that the urge to political violence, however idealistic, can easily lead, as it does, to pointless violence: the gun that is one character's McGuffin accomplishes nothing useful and, indeed, slays her lover. But the Muslim fundamentalists who urge - no, COMMAND - a Turkish prostitute in Bremen to give up her immoral ways - are unsympathetic characters, though they do help the plot along. The segments of the movie are set apart by two scenes of a coffin being loaded on Turkish airlines - one a Turk being sent back to Turkey, the other a German being sent back to Germany. The murders are unintentional, but the culpability is general, as is the hideous remorse.

The climax for me comes when a Turk explains to a German the story of Bayram - the Muslim holiday that celebrates Ibrahim's attempt to follow God's will to sacrifice his son Ismail, and God's prevention of the sacrifice. This is the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, too, of course, and the German sees that, in wonderment. It forms a link between the two and a window between the cultures, and it also strengthens the resolve of both to love people they have been unable to forgive. The sacrifice of Isaac is not only a major theme for Jews (it recalls, perhaps, the moment when their forebears ceased to practice human, especially infant, sacrifice, which remained a custom among many of their Semitic relatives for centuries longer), it is also a major theme in Christian iconography (cf. the altar mosaics of San Vitale in Ravenna, where the sacrifice of Isaac is on one wall and the crucifixion on the opposite wall), where the sacrifice by Abraham of his son is held to prefigure the sacrifice of Jesus by his father. (But Isaac is not, of course, Abraham's "only-begotten son," as reports often have it - Ishmael is the first, and there are six younger sons, per Genesis.) This is recalled also, gorgeously, in Britten's Canticle No. 2, where Isaac is sung by a boy soprano - though I have heard it sung by David Daniels who, with Anthony Griffey at Carnegie Hall, turned it into a magical ten-minute S&M opera.

Somehow I find art that feels, that makes us feel, forgiveness between enemies (or uncomprehending adversaries) more touching than almost any other, as in the two supreme moments in Figaro: In Act III, when Marzellina and Susanna, who have been close to pulling each other's hair out, rush to each other's arms, and at the end of Act IV when the Countess pardons her husband. (Anything that undercuts that moment is an enemy I shall be loath to forgive and cannot comprehend.)

But back to the film: enhanced by six splendid performances (notably Hanna Schygulla, Fassbinder's muse, as a chilly German mother whose heart breaks and is renewed), the film is also radiant in its depiction of Bremen and Hamburg neighborhoods (hardly the best ones) and the sea and the steep, steep hills of the slums of Istanbul, and finally of Turkey's Black Sea coast. None of these shots are of places a Tourist Board would want you to notice, or think about when considering travel plans, but all of them are fresh, exciting, stimulating, wonderful hints of the countries beyond. And as in the movie Hamam, Istanbul becomes a symbol of renewal, of eternal rebirth, of acceptance, of the glorious mixture of different cultures.

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