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The other side of Fatih Akin

Auf der anderen Seite

Saturday 26 April 2008, by Paul Kirkness

Towards the end of September last year, I wrote an article about a documentary film that I particularly enjoyed - Crossing the Bridge. This film was filmed and edited by Fatih Akin, the son of Turkish migrants who moved to Hamburg. His documentary film-making was, I argued, particularly moving because, as he explored the streets of Istanbul with Alexander Hacke, one could not but get this feeling that the author was both ‘rediscovering’ home as a Turk and ‘discovering’ the marvels of a city like Istanbul as a German. Auf der anderen Seite (which translates in English as ‘On the other side’) is a film about confused belongings, about unsettled identities... and thus, on top of being - quite simply - a beautiful film, it is also a further reflection on the schizophrenia of being uprooted and feeling lost in a global world.

I first came accross Fatih Akin through his Gegen Die Wand. This was a film-title in German yet the stories within the movie revolved around Turkish speaking minorities living in Germany. These fictional histories also told a lot of truth it seemed to me: why else would the director, a Turkish-German himself, choose to expose the everyday difficulties of living as a constant ‘foreigner’ in Germany? These issues are pushed further in Auf der anderen Seite.

I wish I could sum up the film for the viewer. I wish I could, but I will not do so per se. I run the risk of giving away important parts of a beautiful story. Let it just be said here that the themes approached in Auf der anderen Seite are incredibly varied - from death to separation, from solitude to passion and love, from militancy to abandonment. It is clear, however, that the movie’s strong point lies in its ability to take the spectator on a voyage, into a world between Germany and Turkey. Filming from Hamburg’s brothels to the Black Sea regions of Turkey, Fatih Akin is a transnational film-maker.

The characters of this particular film further illustrate the feeling of ‘in-betweenness’. While, the old Ali eats fried fish and drinks raki in Germany, where he has presumably spent most of his life working as a ‘Gastarbeiter’ (guest-worker), his son Nejat teaches German literature in university. When he the young man settles in Istanbul, it is to work in German bookshop. On the other hand, Yeter works as a prostitute to fund her daughters’ studies in Turkey, where she sends money... Yet she is approached by Islamists from Milli Görüs - a Turkish Islamist organization - who threaten her if she does not abandon the profession. And so on...

There is no obsession from Fatih Akin’s part to describe what it is to have multiple roots and divided personalities but he does so superbly. What is more, he has chosen actors that are convincing - often to the brink of tear jerking. His camera work is that of a master director and his way of filming Turkey - in particular Istanbul - are particular reflective of his love for the country and its peoples.

It is rare to be certain of the future of a director but Akin has consistently showed that he is capable of doing great things - sometimes with very little. He proves over and over again that he is a super director. Auf der anderen Seite is no exception.


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