From Germany and Turkey, writer-director Fatih Akin’s Auf der anderen Seite is a powerful, deeply affecting drama about separated and estranged family members and intertwining just-missed family reconciliations, and points of both commonality and misunderstanding between the cultures of both countries, as well as Turkey’s own wobbled identity between Muslim Asian and secular European.
To begin with, Nejat Aksu (Baki Davrak, a young German actor of Turkish descent, wonderful) is a Turkish professor of German literature in Hamburg. His father, also a Turkish immigrant, lives in Bremen, where his live-in single-client prostitute, Yeter, also Turkish, is earning money for daughter Ayten’s schooling. The first of three parts is titled “Yeter’s Death.” It is a blow from Ali, Nejat’s father, that causes her death. Nejat estranges himself from this “murderer,” returning to Turkey to find Ayten so that he can take over the financing of her education. But Ayten is really no more a college student than her mother was a shoe factory worker, as Ayten believes; she is, according to the state, a terrorist. Believing her mother is still alive, Ayten flees to Germany, where, homeless, she becomes the lover of bohemian college student Lotte Staub in Lotte’s bourgeois mother’s home. (Hanna Schygulla and Patrycia Ziolkowska are superb as mother and daughter.) In the meantime, Nejat has bought and runs a German bookshop in Istanbul. Ayten’s return to Istanbul—she is deported from Germany—results in her imprisonment; Lotte follows to try to get her freed. Susanne, her mother, will no longer extend financial help, but Nejat, not knowing her connection to Ayten, whom he is still trying to locate, rents her a room in his flat. Lotte is accidentally shot and killed by kids playing (Ayten’s own gun, which Lotte has found upon Ayten’s instructions, delivers the fatal bullet); the second part of the film is titled “Lotte’s Death.” The tragedy brings Susanne to Istanbul, to Nejat, to his flat, where she rents her daughter’s old room. She sees Ayten, offering to do or pay anything to help get her freed because this is what Lotte wanted. Freed from prison (as Ayten will be), Ali has returned to Turkey. Nejat one night shares with Susanne a story from the Quran, about Ibrahim and his son Ismail, whom Allah orders Ibrahim to sacrifice in order to test Ibrahim’s devotion. Abraham and Isaac: in an incredibly moving moment, Susanne tells Nejat, “We have the same story.” But an even more moving moment follows. Nejat has confided to Susanne that the story terrified him as a child, so he asked his father whether he, his father, would sacrifice him if Allah ordered it. “Not even for Allah!” Ali told his little son all those years ago, and the luminous recollection reconciles Nejat with his father, whom he goes off to see unannounced. But has death intervened, as it had in Susanne’s case? The film ends with Nejat sitting on the beach, poised for his father’s return from rowing. Perhaps death is necessary to erase familial estrangement; perhaps reconciliation comes only “on the other side.”
The brilliant, intricate script won richly deserved prizes for Akin at Cannes and the European Film Awards.
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