In his most ambitious feature to date, first-generation Turkish-German director Fatih Akin further explores subjects that have been near and dear to his heart since his impressive feature debut, IN JULY: The immigrant/emigree experience, and meanings of “homeland” and “home.” In a trio of closely related segments, Akin follows a group of German and Turkish men and women as they navigate their way through life and death, crossing and recrossing borders both visible and invisible until they find themselves “on the other side” -- auf der anderen seite, the original German title of the film.
In "Yeter's Death," Ali Asku (Tuncel Kurtiz), a lonely Turkish widower living in Bremen, becomes smitten with a Turkish-born prostitute named Yeter (Nursel Kose). After several visits to her storefront bordello, Ali makes Yeter an offer: He'll pay her what she would ordinarily if she'll agree to retire and come live with him. Yeter agrees -- she's being bullied out of business by a pair of moralizing Turkish Islamicists anyway – and she moves in, much to the dismay of Ali's son, Nejat (Baki Davrak), a professor of German literature at the university in nearby Hamburg. Before long, Nejat realizes Yeter is anything but a woman on the make, and he's touched to learn that she sends most of the money she earns back to Istanbul to pay for her daughter Ayten's university tuition. But her Ayten has been missing for the past few months, and when Yeter is killed in a terrible accident for which Ali is to blame, Nejat follows her body back to Turkey in search of her daughter, whom he intends on helping. In "Lotte's Death," Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay), a member of a political extremist cell in Istanbul, narrowly escapes arrest after a protest rally in support the imprisoned Kurdish rights leader Abdullah Ocalan turns violent. With a false passport, Ayten arrives in Hamburg and soon meets Lotte Staub (Patrycia Ziolkowska), an idealistic university student just back from India who offers to put Ayten up in the tidy suburban home she shares with her mother, Susanne (Hanna Schygulla, wonderful as ever). Susanna is wary of this stray stranger, and she’s well aware the relationship between Ayten and Lotte is sexual. When Ayten is arrested after a minor traffic violation and eventually deported back to prison in Turkey, Lotte drops everything to follow her. In the film's final movement, "The Edge of Heaven," Susanne travels to Turkey in the wake of Lotte's sudden death and meets Nejat, who has since moved to Istanbul and, coincidentally, took Lotte in as a tenant, unaware that her imprisoned lover is Yeter's lost daughter. By moving into Lotte’s room and helping Ayten, Susanne hopes to somehow reconnect with the daughter she'd turned her back on before losing her forever.
Akin deftly brings his storylines together into a neat circle, and his plot mechanics hinge on a number of coincidences that are bit too pat to be entirely believable. But Akin would probably argue that what appears to be happenstance are really the forces that drive us all, the emotional, familial and national undercurrents that eventually lead us all back home, regardless of how far they've wandered. After the rushing violence of Akin HEAD-ON, Akin achieves a peaceful balance here –- alongside the death and seemingly senseless tragedy, there’s also a kind of reassuring equilibrium. leave a comment --Ken Fox