The kindness of strangers

Last night I watched an amazing film, The Edge of Heaven, a Turkish German co-production about six characters in contemporary Europe, several of them first and second generation immigrants, whose lives become entangled and whose fates mirror each other in various clever, poignant ways.

There are some unbearably sad moments: a mother and daughter, both searching for each other, pass on a motorway; one, in a bus, the other in a car ( going in different directions.) We know that the mother is soon to die and that the daughter will never find her………..ever. ( At this point, I started to shout at the TV set like a child at a pantomime: “She’s in the bus, she’s in the car!” etc)

Characters fleetingly pass each other, unaware, unlike the audience, of their relationship: a device so common in so many modern films, such as Babel, and TV productions, that try to depict global connection and chaos simultaneously.

A university professor lectures to a half empty hall while a young woman sleeps, obviously utterly exhausted, right at the back; later in the film, the academic tries to find this same woman. Two of the main characters briefly coincide, at immigration. One is being deported from Turkey, for having accidentally killed his prostitute lover; the other is arriving in Turkey, looking for her lost daughter. Neither knows the other, but we know their relationship to each other.

The Edge of Heaven tackles modern life in a rather beautiful glancing way. There’s no great song or dance about fundamentalist Islam, just a low key but rather terrifying scene in which an ageing prostitute is quietly threatened on the top of a bus by two men who tell her she is betraying the religion of her homeland ( they are all Turks and Muslims, living in Germany.)

The film’s title has multiple meanings, including the constant nearness of death. Its original title in German was Auf der Anderen Seite: On the Other Side. But both new and old title still refer to both mortality and the imminent entry by Turkey to the European Union.

It’s a story of sadness, ageing, loss, love and the constant, frenetic movement of peoples within contemporary Europe. But it’s also about the kindness of strangers in this hostile, fast moving world. A simple gesture – the offer of a meal, a place to stay, a willingness to listen, with genuine interest and humility, to the story of another human being – can be truly transformative. The saving grace of a cruel world.

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