An ensemble film that tells the story of several people from Germany and Turkey who do not know each other but whose paths cross fatefully. One of them is Susanne Staub, whose daughter Charlotte has fallen in love with the young Turkish activitst Ayten Öztürk. When the young activist is deported back to Turkey from Germany, Charlotte follows her, but is killed. Susanne also decides to go to Istanbul, where she finds support from Nejat Aksu, a German language and literature professor of Turkish descent. For his part, Nejat is hoping to find the missing Ayten – but he has no idea of the relationship between any of the stakeholders. –Berlinale
The Guardian, Friday 22 February 2008
The Turkish-German director Fatih Akin’s new film has been given a poetic English title for its UK release, but the German original, Auf der Anderen Seite, “On the Other Side”, is better. This is an intriguing, complex, beautifully acted and directed piece of work, partly a realist drama of elaborate coincidences, near-misses and near-hits, further tangled with shifts in the timeline – and partly an almost dreamlike meditation with visual symmetries and narrative rhymes.
It is about the tension between Germany and Turkey, to whom postwar West Germany opened its doors for “guest-worker” labourers, thereby getting an economic boost but creating for itself an unacknowledged quasi-imperial legacy of guilt and cultural division. And it is about the gulf between the first- and second-generation Turkish-Germans, conflicted about their identity and their relation with the old country, itself conflicted as it prepares to join the European Union.
At the movie’s centre is Nejat (Baki Davrak), a second-generation Turk who has attained what might be the greatest distinction Germany has to offer: he is a university professor, lecturing on Goethe. His rascally old father, Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), also in Germany, has offered cohabitation rights to the Turkish prostitute Yeter (Nursel Köse) for whom he is a regular, and who is only too eager to escape the bullying Muslim activists who patrol the red-light district – but doesn’t see Ali’s yet unrevealed darker side. Having established this fraught, tense family relationship, Akin spins the narrative thread off sideways to investigate the situation of Yeter’s fugitive daughter Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay) and her relationship with an idealist young German, Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska) who between them are reviving the spirit of Baader-Meinhof for a new generation. Lotte’s mother is Susanne, played by Hanna Schygulla, a casting decision that is partly a kind of ancestor-worship of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, an acknowledged inspiration for Akin.
It is a glitteringly confident narrative pattern, gesturing at the globalised, historical forces that govern individual lives; in some ways it is like a very, very much better version of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s mediocre film Babel – there is some similar business with a handgun – but not as schematic and superficial. The web of happenstance and dramatic reversals of fortune may teeter on the brink of unbelievability, but it is a measure of Akin’s confidence as a storyteller that his world so plausibly enfolds us.
To the political institutions involved, Akin directs a fierce satiric pessimism. A Turkish revolutionary is refused asylum by a German court not on the grounds of terrorist activities – of which it is in fact unaware – but on the Catch-22 basis that a country about to be admitted to the EU club couldn’t possibly be tyrannical. Later, after repatriation, we see the Turkish government cut a cynical deal to release this same suspect from prison to placate the German authorities. Amid the bureaucracy and the institutional bad faith, however, individual Turks and Germans find common ground: friendship and love.
This is perhaps not a film for everyone; it does need a leap of faith, though not a very big leap. What I think is beyond doubt is that Akin – already the winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival for his 2004 film Head-On – is a director who has found a real voice. He tackles big ideas, big themes, in the service of which he creates believable human beings and elicits tremendous performances from his actors. It is bold and exhilarating film-making.