September 23, 2008

Loss, Grief & Guilt via Germany, Italy & Turkey: Saturn in Opposition & The Edge of Heaven


Reviewer: James van Maanen
Ratings (out of 5):
Saturn: ***½
Heaven: ****

Stylistically, two new films with similar themes by international moviemakers with strong ties to Turkey could hardly be more different, yet both deal strongly and thoughtfully with the subject of loss, grief and guilt.

Ferzan Ozpetek, born in Turkey in 1959, came to Rome to study film and has now become one of Italy's most recognized moviemakers. Fatih Akin's parents emigrated from Turkey to Germany in the 1960s; he was born in Hamburg in 1973. The land of Turkey, the Ottoman Empire, its culture and religion come up again and again in both filmmakers' work -- more in Ozpetek's early films like Steam and Harem than is his latest Saturn in Opposition (but how often he uses the wonderful Turkish actress Serra Yilmaz!). Akin seems to be drawn to Turkey more strongly with each successive film: In July, Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul, and now The Edge Of Heaven.

If you're lucky enough to have ever been part of a band of deeply close friends, Ozpetek's Saturn in Opposition (Saturno Contro) will especially connect. I'm speaking here of the kind of friends who can predict each other's next speech or action. Their sexualities span the spectrum, and they may have been lovers, or at least sex partners, prior to their friends-forever status. They are so caring and close that, should one of them introduce a new member to the group, he or she is simply accepted--no matter what. When these friends fight, they know each others' weak points, go for the jugular and bounce back: bloody, unbowed and more loving than ever. And when something really bad happens, they unite.

Something really bad happens in Ozpetek's new film and perhaps the highest praise I can bestow on this filmmaker of great feeling is to say that he makes us viewers a part of this wonderful group so that we experience it all.

This writer/director often includes homosexuality and homosexual characters in his work, but always within larger framework of heterosexualty, community and state. In this way his films manage to address divergent sexuality without reducing it to a mere "cause." Even his Ignorant Fairies (His Secret Life on U.S. DVD), which comes closest to a "cause" film, still deals with the larger community because the main character is a woman who suddenly discovers her husband's bi-sexuality and must come to terms with this. In Saturn in Opposition, Ozpetek gives equal weight to hetero, homo, pan and even--who knows?--the chaste. His encompassing enriches. He still manages to overdo certain scenes (Davide's grief atop the cliff), but overall, he's on target. And so thoroughly does he entwine you in the feelings of his little group that, despite the occasional excess, you'll gladly forge ahead.

Ozpetek's cast is plum, and because no credits save the title are given until the film's
conclusion, I didn't realize that one of my favorite actresses, Margherita Buy, was one of the stars. She and Stefano Accorsi play a married couple -- quite a switch from Ignorant Fairies, in which Accorsi played Buy's husband's much younger lover. Accorsi seems more mature now--six years later--while Buy has clearly gone in the opposite direction (well, European actresses, too, I suppose, must hang on to their looks). The gem of the ensemble, however, is Pierfrancesco Favino as Davide, a successful author of children's books. Here Favino is very different -- sweet, self-effacing, enormously intelligent and supremely beautiful -- from his other major roles: the sergeant in El Alamein, Libano in Crime Novel (for which he won a Donatello award for Best Supporting Actor) and even his smaller role in The Keys to the House.

One of the most successful directors in present-day Italy, Ozpetek has made six interesting films, some better than others but each a worthy addition to Italy's film canon. In some way, Saturn may be the high point of his career.

heaven Death comes to characters in Mr. Akin's new movie, too, set in Germany and Turkey. In fact, the writer/director alerts us via title cards at the beginning of his first two sections as to whose death occurs, so I am not giving away the store by telling you this. It's the how and why death occurs, as well as the before and after that matter. How Akin manages to link all this -- quietly, thoughtfully, with very little strum und drang has a great deal to do with his film's effectiveness.

The Edge of Heaven is as much about missed connections as anything else. "Missing person" posters are placed around town -- and missed by the very people who should see them. Passengers in cars and buses fail to notice that they literally next to each other; a simple turn of the head would do so much. The image of a student sleeping in class, at first funny and rather typical, returns later to haunt us, once more of the story is revealed.

Akin weaves past and present seductively and, I think, conscientiously. Despite all the missed connections, connections are still made -- between people and cultures. Characters find each other but not in the simple manner that movies usually provide. I think this may be what Akin is telling us: Life is seldom simple or easy, particularly for immigrants, but when its grid -- with all its connections -- is seen from some higher, more distanced view, we begin to get the picture. The film's final image, on screen for a long while, will give you plenty of time to ponder its beauty and meaning.

I find it interesting that Ozpetek, who emigrated to Italy, gives us a movie with distinct Italian flair: emotional and full of enormous feeling. Akin, whose family came to Germany, offers a film of a more quiet nature, thoughtful, distanced, philosophical -- but in its own way just as full of life.

More on Edge of Heaven here, here and here.

Bookmark and Share

Posted by cphillips at September 23, 2008 9:12 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?