Hello all! In the last couple weeks, I’ve managed to watch 4 more foreign films! One is nominated for this year’s Oscars in the best Foreign Language Film category, and one I saw not on Netflix but in theaters. For the sake of going in order and keeping things a little more concise and consistent, though, this post will just be about the next two that I watched on Netflix:
First, I watched the 2011 Norwegian drama, Oslo, August 31st (on Netflix), directed by Joachim Trier. It’s roughly one day in the life of a recovering drug addict named Anders, who leaves rehab to revisit his old stomping grounds– the city of Oslo– for a job interview (one that is more or less mandated by his counselor). While he’s there, we watch as he also battles the demons of his past– the now-fractured if not completely lost relationships he had and the aftermath of his life as an addict– all coming back to haunt, tempt and taunt him at every turn.
The film is bleak (a word I find myself using for many a foreign film, but one which often doesn’t quite give justice to the beauty inherent in that bleakness) and slowly-paced (another common trait), but it is gripping nonetheless. You watch as he sort of gradually self-destructs, and you feel powerless and helpless as that trajectory unfolds, carefully and quietly but not altogether hopelessly– what keeps the film from feeling like a dead end for its entire run time are these glimmers of hope we try to latch onto, even as he detaches from them within the narrative. I particularly loved the opening sequence– images of Oslo flashing before us, with voiceovers telling stories of their many memories of the city. Later, the film will revisit many of these same images, but they feel emptier, more unwelcome, and we see the beginning as an opening and the end as a true ending, a closing of a chapter and an eerie realization of what this young man’s life has come to within and outside of the city he’d once called home, the city that has, in many unfortunate ways, shaped his fate. I thought it was wonderful, certainly worth watching, but not one that will ultimately stick with me too much, I don’t think.
The Edge of Heaven, on the other hand, is a film that will definitely haunt me, just as Head On (Gegen die Wand) had from the moment I saw it; both come from Turkish-German director Fatih Akin, and both are intricate, heartbreaking human dramas that deal with Turkish immigrants living in Germany. The Edge of Heaven (2007, on Netflix, original title: Auf der anderen Seite) weaves together already-inherently-connected stories of love, violence, redemption, identity and destiny. The film begins with an older Turkish immigrant living in Germany and his second generation immigrant son, living and working as a professor of German in Hamburg. The father, in a drunken temper tantrum, accidentally kills his Turkish prostitute-turned-sort-of-girlfriend. Knowing she’d left behind a 27-year-old daughter, who’d been living and finishing her schooling in Turkey (her tuition paid for by her mother’s secret profession), the son goes to Istanbul to find her, seeking repentance and to make things right.
Our second storyline follows the daughter, and we find out she is a political dissenter who seeks refuge in Hamburg and looks for her mother to no avail, and the many ironic, tragically missed connections slowly reveal themselves through painfully nuanced shots of these people literally crossing paths or through the film’s careful editing, as events we did not realize were significant at first are repeated and thus given enormous weight. Anyway, her storyline is filled with even more despair than the first, as she falls in love with a German student named Lotte who then risks everything to save her when she is deported and arrested for her activism and failed attempts at asylum.
The connections between these people are then further teased and tested– Lotte stays with Nejat (the son) and later, so does Lotte’s mother, and you want so badly for him to know who it was that they’d been in Istanbul to help, that it was the same girl he’d been seeking all along, but this revelation would be too simple, it seems, and it never comes. Closure is sought after and only half-found by all these characters; they all find a kind of imperfect, uneasy inner-peace, and the effect that this half-solace has on viewers is deeply affecting: it seems tragic, frustrating and also weirdly satisfying all at once, a complicated set of emotions for a complicated film that is also incredibly gorgeous, even in its most depressing moments (notable to me would be a shot of a coffin coming off an airplane into Turkey from Germany, and the reciprocal shot later of a coffin being loaded onto a plane, leaving Turkey for Germany, all paired with the emotionally resonant sounds of traditional Turkish music). The film explores themes of homeland and heritage and the ways in which people can be both challenged and separated from one another because of these ties and the ways in which they can and do connect despite those ties. I loved this complex, moving and captivating film wholeheartedly.
Thanks for reading and following me on this journey! Next post, which I’ll hopefully get up here sometime this week, will be about the Italian drama Human Capital (now playing in select theaters/cities) and the Polish masterpiece Ida.