Transnational Cinema in Fatih Akin’s Edge of Heaven

By traversing the physical, cultural, temporal and theoretical borders of the nation, Fatih Akin’s 2007 film, The Edge of Heaven, attempts to transcend and critique its limitations. Experimenting with the cinematic form, Akin demonstrates the impact of these factors on the identity of heterogenous characters and the relationships, both familial and otherwise, that allegorically represent its greater sociological and political facets. Examining this exploration through Hamid Naficy’s framework of the accented cinema, the underpinnings of a national and transnational discourse are made explicit by the film’s use of linguistics, soundtrack, the Bergsonian concept of simultaneity, and finally, the spectatorial displacement of the audience.

In his essay, “Situating Accented Cinema”, Hamid Naficy establishes three key modes within filmmaking which constitute accented cinema. These characteristically fluid, overlapping modes are exilic, diasporic, and ethnic.

Within the exilic framework, whether voluntarily or involuntarily separate from their place of origin, the exile is predominantly concerned with the “sight, sound, taste, and feel of an originary experience;” that they have left behind. Existing within a “slipzone of anxiety and imperfection, where life hovers between the heights of ecstasy and the depths of despondency and doubt,” the identity of the exile is in a state of flux; “a living, dynamic organism that lurks and thrives in the interstices of social and political formations.” In at least one scene each, the characters in Akin’s Edge of Heaven all embody these exilic tendencies. Yeter, for example, is a voluntary external exile of Turkey whose character represents the trauma experienced by the Turkish nation during the reformation of the Ottoman Empire and institution of the Republic in 1922. This exilic nature is inferred by Akin’s use of the soundtrack. At her home in the red light district, Yeter plays music by Nese Karabocek, a Turkish pop star well known for being featured in Yesilcam films. We watch and listen as these two expatriates, Ali and Yeter, share a nostalgia for their homeland. However, by having moved from an internal exile of oppression in Turkey to an external exile of political freedom in Germany, Yeter is “in the grip of both the old and the new, the before and the after,” underscoring her identity’s mode of instability.

This exploration of the transnational identity also extends to the film’s experiments with linguistics. Ayten, seeking political refuge while searching for her mother in Germany, speaks in broken English, indicating her broken identity, and yet finds harmony with Lotte in the dance club scene, void of any dialogue. In her essay, “Polyphony and Heterogeneity in The Edge of Heaven”, Berna Gueneli asserts that the “polyphonic soundtrack is intrinsically linked to and in exchange with the film’s narrative and image.” In this scene, the sight of each other; the taste of the cigarette and their lips; and the feel of their bare skin produces an originary experience that transcends the linguistic barrier through the sound of the remixed, sampled Romanian music. This effect is further emphasised through its contrast with the filmic form of the previous and succeeding sequences. Conversely to the dance club sequence, both of its neighbouring scenes are staged during the day as opposed to the night; include Foley sounds such as the taxi’s engine; and have very minimal cuts in their editing. This highlights the significance and cultural transcendence of the experimental scene that they sandwich.


Edge of Heaven – Dance Club Sequence

Akin not only explores this concept of identity within the exile, but also goes deeper in the scenes that follow these by offering the synthesis of cultures as a possible resolve. Lotte and Ayten each share a piece of their respective heritage with the other; Lotte shows Ayten how to bake “really German” style bread and Ayten explains that her name “means moonshine” in Turkish.

Additionally, the relationship between Ali and Yeter underscores the implications of exiling oneself from the deep nation of Turkish-Islam, and helps to discern the impact it has upon sexual politics within the ethnic state. Confronted for her licentious career as a prostitute while in a metaphorical and literal state of transit on the bus, the two Turkish-Muslims represent the cultural oppression embedded within her transitory subconscious. Once again, Akin employs experiments in linguistics to establish this dichotomy. Initially, she claims she does not understand their Arabic greeting, responding with “no understand,” in German, before finally submitting and speaking in her native Turkish tongue. Despite being physically separate from her place of origin, she is haunted by the dynastic imagined community of its oppressive dogma. As a result, Yeter essentially sells herself into the relationship with Ali in an attempt to repent. By definition, the power of this organised relationship is traditionally patriarchal, indicated by Yeter assuming the subjugated role, accepting payment to cook for Ali and serve him upon request. When she finally refuses to fulfil Ali’s requests, she ruptures this connection to the cultural implications of the Turkish-Islam nation, but is subsequently killed by Ali’s reaction. Beginning with this trauma, the actions of the remaining characters are all cumulatively effected in their attempts to reconcile their sense of transnational identity. The film’s almost complete lack of explicit reflection on Yeter’s death reinforces Kevin Robins’ notion that “what binds the group is its commitment to remain silent about the … nature of the originary act of symbolic institution.” Accordingly, the film makes a point to only reference this act implicitly from here on out. For example, the inverse visual-rhyme that the shot of her coffin arriving in Turkey has with the shot of Lotte’s coffin departing Turkey.


Yeter’s coffin returning to Turkey


Lotte’s coffin returning to Germany

Further, this also acts as an evocative metaphor for the convergence of the national identities that come about because of their deaths, while validating Naficy’s use of Derridean ‘undecidables’ to describe how neither their “hybrid fusion nor the fragmentation is total, permanent or painless,” they are merely passing each other, both here and there, in simultaneous time.

This process of an identity in a constant state of becoming, rather than just being, is demonstrated by Akin’s choice to emphasize discontinuity in his exploration of the spatio-temporal organisation of the film. The circular structure, for example beginning and ending with Nejat’s search for his father, is one such filmic experimentation.

Similarly, bifurcating into two simultaneous, paralleling flashbacks to depict multiple perspectives of each political climate helps to suggest its impermanence. For example, one such repetition of time is the point when, at roughly the midpoint of the film, Ayten and Lotte drive past Nejat and Yeter. For this brief moment, four of the six characters are almost in a single frame. A sensation of social harmony is created at this temporal nexus between a Turkish exile, a German citizen, a Turkish professor of the German language, and a Turkish expatriate. This sensation of social harmony is largely evoked through Akin’s use of the soundtrack. Throughout the film, the leitmotif of a Turkish song, “Ben Seni Sevdugumi” is used in various geographical settings to create an aural continuity between them and between characters. The individual instruments of the song are used for different scenes, however in this scene, all tracks are brought together, filling the aural frame. Together, these characters form a literal harmony. The filmic structure of this sequence also adds to its depth. The frame first holds on a medium-shot

of the car, with Ayten and Lotte inside, searching for Yeter. Following on from this, without cutting, the camera pans upwards to the train window where we see the oblivious Nejat and Yeter, evoking a strong sense of dramatic irony.


Ayten and Lotte searching for Yeter


Nejat and Yeter, ironically just above them

Within Naficy’s accented cinema, every story is both a private story; of an individual or a family, and a social story; of exile and diaspora. This ironic situation of being so very close, perhaps on the edge, of what they are looking for without knowing of its presence, parallels the title of the film, The Edge of Heaven. Despite being within an interstitial space of transnational identity; in a constant state of becoming, these characters, metonymic of their nations, are at the cusp of a more unified life, perhaps analogous to an accession of Turkey into the European Union. We near this unification in the third segment of the film.

As the story progresses, the hierarchical structure of familial relations are superseded by the formation of these new lateral affiliations with each other, and between these nations. This concept is expounded by the simultaneous nature of the film’s structure and also demonstrates its filmic experimentation. The “characters cross and recross each other’s paths repeatedly, and with each (re)tracing, their identities take on new meaning.” Susan, Ayten and Nejat form a type of family not built from filial associations, but rather transnational associations. After deciding to stay in Turkey, Susan traverses the exact same path that her own daughter had walked just days earlier. The analogue between these two scenes also draws attention to the film’s experimentation with the structure of time. By framing this shot with the same long-shot and panning camera movement as Lotte’s paralleling wander sequence, Akin compares the transnational relationship that Susan has developed with Turkey to that of the familial relationship with her daughter.


Lotte and Susan both follow the same path

It was only through the trauma of the death of this relationship that Susan was able to build a new connection with the Turkish-German transnationality. Her cultural synthesis is indicated by her greeting of the two men at the café in English; not Turkish, Arabic or German. Additionally, the subsequent scene that follows this at the gaol depicts Susan’s symbolic reconciliation with Ayten, and thus her reconciliation with a heterogeneous, Turkish-German identity.

Conversely, Lotte’s greeting to the men at the café was in Arabic. Susan retreads Lotte’s path in search of resolution, but Lotte retreads Ayten’s path for the benefit of the Turkish revolution. While Susan’s reconciliation in synthesizing the two cultures was peaceful, Lotte’s attempts at synthesis resulted in her own murder. Lotte is still hierarchically connected to her mother, and thus the German nation. Her confliction in such a state is represented by Akin’s choice to reverse the staging of her following in Ayten’s path. On the ferry, while Ayten had sat on the right side of the boat and was framed on the left of the composition, Lotte is presented in the reverse; sitting on the left side of the boat, compositionally framed to the right.


Ayten sitting on the right side of the ferry


Lotte sitting on the left side of the ferry

This use of film form to signify the effect that their contradicting social anxieties are producing is finally resolved after Ayten repents. Standing at the stern of the ferry, facing away from the camera, Ayten watches the two sides of the boat’s wake come together. Free from the imagined community of the terrorist organisation, this image represents how Ayten consolidates the influence of her late German lover and her own historical culture for the development of a transnational identity. The movement of the waves, “with a sense of direction both forwards (towards the camera) and receding (looking at the wake), [suggest] past, present, and future rather than divided sides,” conveying an overall sense of unity through simultaneity. Additionally, in German cinema, “the ocean represents a utopian horizon.”


Ayten standing at the stern of the ferry


The Closing Shot of the ‘utopian horizon’

This particular frame parallels the closing shot of the film wherein we, along with Nejat waiting for Ali’s return, are presented with the undecided possibility of life and death. Akin’s conscious choice to leave these journeys unresolved once again echoes the title of the film and suggests the ethnic’s constant state of becoming; always at the edge of a unified heaven.

Naficy’s accented cinema highlights the journey as a common narrative for the transnational ethnic. Nejat’s journey, both physical and metaphorical imbues this film with these sociological explorations. His key problematics, in accordance with Naficy’s ethnic framework, “are encoded in the politics of the hyphen.” That is to say, much like an African-American, or Latino-American, his designation as a German-Turk “suggests a divided mind, an irrevocably split identity.” The sudden traumatic death of Yeter, severing his familial relation to Ali, sets in motion his search for an answer to the resultant cultural deficit. This journey leads Nejat from speaking in German, even when in a rage, yelling “you won’t eat borek, but you smoke. Are you taking the piss?” to his purchase of a German bookstore within Turkey, a symbol of globalisation that suggests an opposition to Bergson’s argument for “print-capitalism [giving] a new fixity to language” and finally, to the treating his German pseudo-mother, Susan, to a Turkish feast before seeking out reconciliation with his father in a rural part of Turkey. Overall, his character’s engagement with deterritorialization serves as an allegory for Turkey’s deep nation desire to manage the consequences of repressed trauma and conflicted national identity through a symbiosis between the global and the local.

As spectators of the film, Akin forces us to share in these characters’ sense of displacement. The plurality of the languages used throughout requires all but a very small percentage of viewers to read subtitles in order to follow along, thus disrupting the traditional voyeuristic tendencies of film spectatorship. By experimenting with this cinematic form, we are forced to engage with the heterogeneity of the transnational landscape.

As a film, Akin’s Edge of Heaven uses the cinematic form to establish a discourse that traverses the physical, cultural, temporal and theoretical borders of the nation. Each of the characters, figuratively bumping off of one another, suggests that despite the synthesis of multiple national identities as a form of catharsis from trauma, the ethnic remains in a Derridean state of constantly becoming. Additionally, as Naficy’s framework of the accented cinema suggests that every story is both a private story and a social story, they can also be seen as allegorical of Turkey’s troubled accession into the European Union. Through his use of the compositional frame and narrative structure, Akin conducts experiments into the Bergsonian concept of simultaneity and its relevance to the transnational journey, as well as its cinematic implications of spectatorship.

By Jacob Carrick


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Silvey, Viven, and Roger Hillman. “Akin’s Auf Der Anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven) and the Widening Periphery.” German as a Foreign Language 3 (2010): 99-116.


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